By Jonathan Isaby
Transport Secretary Philip Hammond is today launching a five month consultation on the Government's plans for a High Speed Rail network which would link London, the West Midlands, Manchester and Leeds with stations in South Yorkshire and the East Midlands, whilst linking to existing lines to enable through-running services to other cities including Liverpool, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Hammond says that it is a "once-in-a-generation opportunity" to transform the way we travel which would make Britain better connected, create jobs and help spread prosperity around the country.
But apart from the concerns of those living near the proposed site of the line (with residents in parts of Buckinghamshire and Warwickshire being particularly vocal), some are expressing concern about the cost of the project.
Early out of the traps this morning have been the TaxPayers' Alliance, who say that the total cost of around £30 billion represents over £1,000 per family in Britain and that the cost of the debt interest alone on the Government borrowing to finance the initial £17 billion project from London to Birmingham would cost well over £700 million a year.
TPA Director Matthew Sinclair observes:
"With so much pressure on the budgets of families and businesses, it is utterly indefensible that the Government is planning on spending such an incredible amount of money on this project. There are more affordable ways of getting the capacity needed and a high speed line for the rich, on a route already served by very quick trains, can't be the priority over giving ordinary families and firms across the country a better deal. HS2 should be cancelled."
A year ago the TPA produced this paper which concluded that there was no robust financial or economic case for the project.
Two newspaper editorials this morning also sound notes of concern about the plans
The FT (£) states:
"At an estimated £130m per mile, HS2 would cost more than four times as much as the average European high-speed line. The consultation should consider whether this can be cut as it squeezes the economics. Every pound invested will generate less than £2 of benefit (measured by extra journeys, times saved and reduced congestion), compared with the £6 the government estimates for road projects. Even that depends on meeting ambitious traffic forecasts. To govern is to choose. Would the benefits of a shiny new high-speed line outweigh the less visible but valuable things that could be done with the limited funds available? The clearest case for HS2 would be to expand capacity on the congested London-to-Manchester line. Paying £17bn to upgrade half of it seems quite steep."
The Times (£), meanwhile, accepts that HS2 would stimulate jobs and the economy, but expresses a worry that the project does not yet have robust enough political backing.