HS2 is not wildly popular among Conservative Party members – when we surveyed their opinions of 34 potential policies back in May, the High Speed rail line got the lowest approval rating of the lot, on just 2.96 out of a possible maximum score of ten (43 per cent of respondents gave it zero points).
We agree with them – the ConservativeHome manifesto back in 2014 proposed scrapping HS2 and using the money for a Northern Infrastructure Fund instead.
Despite that opposition, the project lumbers on. Today’s coverage illustrates what lies in store for it for the next few years at least – namely almost endless stories of rising costs and practical problems. The new route will require the demolition of a load of recently-built houses. The official bill has grown and grown again, and is now again estimated to be a drastic understatement. Moving stations to please one lobby inevitably ends up displeasing another. All the while, there is the pressure for money to be spent elsewhere instead, inviting negative comparisons.
These issues might not be entirely avoidable but they could be managed rather better. There’s no excuse for the predictable way in which the budget for infrastructure projects is repeatedly inflated as every project proceeds, for example.
Still, the political trouble might be worth it if the end product is a major improvement to the nation – as, say, airport expansion would be. But here’s the rub: not only is HS2 proving too expensive, and being delivered too slowly, it has looked from the outset like a bet on the wrong technology, deployed in the wrong way.
If, at the end of all this, we get an outdated railway that is simultaneously the most expensive in the world per mile of track and fails to address the economic challenges of the 2030s, everyone is going to look more than a little silly.