The arguments put forward by the anti-rail lobby in the Chilterns are understandable. The concern expressed about changes to the landscape and the potential disruption is reasonable.
However the statistics and propaganda used are unfounded and deceptive. Clearly the anti arguments need to be challenged. The myths need to be proven wrong.
Today’s report by the Institute for Economic Affairs has shown that again today. It’s not so much a report, as a repackaged and padded-out version of a Taxpayers’ Alliance ‘research’ paper from February this year, discredited in public by leading rail figures.
The authors are far from dispassionate: one has a record as a long-time advocate for roads, the other is an active member of a local activist group with a house on the HS2 route. Both fail to declare their interests.
Let’s look at the myths:
MYTH: “The national high-speed network will cost each household £1,000 in tax.”
FACT : “Costs of the proposed Y-shaped network will be offset by fare revenues, which will reduce the cost of the proposed network from £32bn to nearer £17bn. The cost to each household figure ignores high-speed rail’s wider economic returns, estimated to be double its net costs. The current predicted return stands at £44bn, a figure widely thought to be too conservative.”
MYTH: “The UK is too small to gain much advantage from a high-speed rail network.”
FACT: “Successful international examples of high-speed rail have covered distances between cities similar to those being proposed in the UK. One of the most successful high speed rail services in Europe is between Frankfurt and Cologne, around 110 miles – roughly the same distance between London and Birmingham.”
MYTH: “High-speed rail is not worth the cost.”
FACT: “When HS1 was being built, people predicted it would create £500m of investment, but later an independent report by Colin Buchanan in 2009 put the value of HS1 at almost £20bn – that’s 40 times the original estimate. What happened was a “regeneration effect” where HS1 directly helped to deliver over 10,000 homes and almost 100,000 jobs in the South East. There is no reason why HSR can’t deliver the same results for the North and the Midlands.
MYTH: “The only places that will benefit are big city centres.”
FACT: “All of Yorkshire and the North will benefit from high-speed rail. Estimates of the wider economic benefits for the North of England alone are £12bn. High-speed rail will increase capacity across existing lines so that local commuter trains run more frequently and with enough seats. High-speed rail will provide for the transport landscape of a newly revived Northern economy.
MYTH: “Money would be better spent on roads in the South.”
FACT: “High-speed rail can be the bridge for the North South Divide. With higher unemployment and lower productivity the North we need to turn back the trend. High-speed rail can do this by bringing cities together and benefiting the whole country.”
The attitude of the antis seems to be one of “throw enough mud and some will stick”. This trivializes a debate of national importance. The creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs are at stake, as well as a functioning rail network with enough capacity to support a growing regional economic base.
This is why colleagues of all major parties in the House of Commons are supportive of high-speed rail, as well as business, the transport industry, and the tourism trade. So are ordinary working people in the Midlands, the North of England and beyond who stand to gain better access to work – either through job creation or even just better commuter services.
For their sakes, let’s keep the debate about how high-speed rail will affect their lives.