Head-to-Head: HS2. White Elephant or Smart Investment?

As the anticipated cost for HS2 crawls up, and even Ellie Goulding condemns it, the government’s plans for High Speed Rail are being hotly debated. Political Commentator Robbie Travers argues we need to push on with the plan, whilst Ben Ramanauskas, Policy Analyst at the Taxpayers’ Alliance, slams it as a white elephant.



Robbie Travers, Political Commentator

Investing in infrastructure to ensure that travel between the North of England and the capital is more efficient and quicker saves time and is predicted to create a massive number of jobs in the North. Construction on the line will be a major employer, and construction around generated by the line will create sustainable construction jobs. It is estimated that the line will generate 22,000 construction jobs in the next five years. With Brexit looming, ensuring that we can have a developed transportation network that generates wealth and employment is essential. It is estimated that once HS2 is operational, that the line will create 100,000 jobs.

This isn’t just a London-centric investment: it is furthermore speculated that a whopping 90% of all employment will not be in London, but will be focussed around the lines destinations. With so many more individuals keeping the benefits of the improvements, this will mean more spending across the country. As the country sees increased spending, and increasingly people take trips over longer destinations due to shorter travel times, we’ll see increased investment in the area and increased spending.

Also, there were around 9,000 individuals standing on the line during the morning rush hour alone. The line risks not only being overcrowded, but struggling to cope with increased commuter numbers. How do you tackle overcrowding? Increase capacity is the answer. Projections note that HS2 could increase capacity from London to Birmingham by 143%. More trains, means less demand for tickets, which means potentially lower costs. Demand has risen by 46%, and 4 of the UK’s most overcrowded roots are covered by HS2.

It has been estimated that by using high speed to create a line, it will offer a return on every pound investment of £6.06. And again, that doesn’t necessarily consider the regeneration impacts this will bring to post-industrialised communities. By increasing the economic success of major Northern Hubs and creating jobs, it will be likely people will wish to commute in to these cities, making these cities economic success stories.



Ben Ramanauskas, Policy Analyst, Taxpayers’ Alliance

The kings of Siam used to gift a white elephant to particularly obnoxious courtiers. The elephants would be incredibly costly to maintain the law prohibited them from working or from being sold, and the owner would have to arrange for the public to worship them. The unfortunate recipient would thus be reduced to penury. With this in mind, one is left wondering what perceived slight successive governments believe that the British taxpayer has committed to deserve to have the modern-day white elephant that is HS2 foisted upon them.
Here at the TaxPayers’ Alliance we have opposed HS2 since the very beginning. In this post I will set out three reasons why.

First, there is the astronomic cost. Up to September 2016, the government had already spent £1.4 billion on the programme. The Department for Transport’s (DfT) latest figures assume the total cost of the project, including rolling stock, will amount to £55.7 billion (in 2015 money). The National Audit Office calculated that the final cost for Phase One (London to Birmingham) will be £27 billion. A comparison with the cost of the Indian Mars Orbiter project reveals that the Indian Government has spent millions of pounds getting to Mars, whereas the British government has spent billions of pounds getting to Birmingham.

The cost is set to continue to spiral out of control. The original estimate from the DfT in 2010 was £33 billion. However, a more recent, and as-yet-unreleased report from the Cabinet Office found that the total cost could now rise to £104 billion. This is a vast amount of money – it is almost as much as the health budget and is more than the entire GDP of oil-rich Kuwait. This is money which could be spent on things that will actually benefit more than just a handful of people. For example, this money could be spent on defence, or on hospitals, or on education. Better yet, it could be left in the hands of the taxpayers who earnt it. Instead, it is being spent on getting wealthy businessmen from Leeds to London.
The second reason why we believe that HS2 should be scrapped is the negative impact that it will have on people and communities. Homes will be destroyed, communities torn asunder, fire stations forced to move, sports centres demolished, and graves exhumed. Although one sympathises with the desire of those visiting Birmingham to leave as quickly possible, this does not justify the destruction and misery that HS2 will cause.

Finally, let us now consider the organisation that is responsible for delivering HS2. HS2 Ltd delivered demolition warning letters to the wrong housing block, informing residents that their homes would be bulldozed to the ground, despite the fact that there were no such plans. Then, in a breath-taking display of incompetence, HS2 Ltd did the exact same thing to another 15,000 people. Humans have been sending letters to each other since antiquity, but it would appear that this relatively simple task has been too much for HS2 Ltd.

This is further evidenced by the fact that yet more families received letters suggesting that their homes were at risk from being purchased by the government less than a month after the original threat letter was put down to a typo in the letters sent out. Perhaps having realised that epistolary was not their forte, HS2 Ltd decided to just not tell some people that their homes were going to be destroyed. Instead, these people were left to find out via Facebook and word of mouth.

Furthermore, when sending a draft order to the HS2 Hybrid Bill Committee, HS2 Ltd missed 20 miles’ worth of locations off their list. Such a move would appear to reveal that nobody at HS2 Ltd ever learnt how to read a map. One would assume that if an organisation was responsible for a major railway project, then they would possess at the very least a basic grasp of geography.
HS2 is going to cost the taxpayer an absolute fortune- money which could be better spent elsewhere (and better spent by people than the state). It will cause misery to people and will only benefit a privileged few. Moreover, the project is in the hands of an organisation which has demonstrated levels of incompetence bordering on criminal. The government should derail the HS2 disaster immediately.

Where do you stand? Who won? Share the arguments and vote for the winner in the poll below.

One thought on “Head-to-Head: HS2. White Elephant or Smart Investment?

  1. Good debate by both participants.
    Robbie’s assertions that the benefits that will be created is in the order of £6 to each pound spent is far fetched and at odds with many estimates of the BCR which is in the region of 1:1.7 or less no way near the figure Of £6. The only reason why the BCR is positive is because of the wider economic impact estimates which may or may not be correct, often these factors are subjective.
    The job creation during construction is seasonal and not necessarily sustainable. These job forecasts are created by the very proponents of the scheme and not independently verified. The challenge of this project is to be integrated with national railway; not compete with it through running parallel system with duplications.

    Not clear about Ben’s comments , if this project has gone through all the loops in parlemant , DfT and parliamentary select committees, can all these groups be wrong or blindfolded?

    It would be interesting to know what is the financing model for this schem? Is it totally reliant on tax payers?


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