By Joseph Willits
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After significant extra concessions to the campaigners justifiably worried about the environmental impact of HS2 it looks like the Government will give the go signal to Britain's high speed rail project. This represents a perfect opportunity for David Cameron to show northern voters that the Conservative Party is determined to spread economic growth to Manchester and Leeds, as much as to any part of the south.
Today's Sunday Times leader (£) condemns the project as "folly". It argues that £32 billion could be better spent on an airport in the Thames Estuary. There are good arguments for the so-called Boris Island Airport but – if it has to be one or the other – a one nation Conservative Party should choose the project that benefits Britain's poorer regions and that is clearly HS2. The unhappiness of some very wealthy southern constituencies shouldn't be seen as a problem for Cameron but a big opportunity. By having to fight for HS2 he can dramatise his commitment to rebalance the UK economy. He can side with those business leaders from the North and Midlands who have argued for it.
This isn't just about the internal balance of the UK. International comparisons show that Britain is in danger of becoming the slow coach in a global high-speed railways revolution. Yesterday's FT (£) reported that "China has laid almost 10,000km of high-speed rail track since 2007 – more than the rest of the world combined." "Elsewhere," it contined, "Saudi Arabia is building a line linking the holy cities of Medina and Mecca, Morocco has started work on its first line, while Russia is close to awarding initial contracts to start work on a line between Moscow and St Petersburg." Any big project is a risk but HS2 is a project that really is worth the gamble.