For official reports, those published today assessing the economic cases for HS2 actually make simple reading. Simple and depressing.
The first thing which stands out is that in the past twelve months the ratio of benefits to costs for both the London to Birmingham scheme and the full Y network have fallen: from 2 to 1.7 and 2.6 to 1.8-2.5 respectively.
There is also a warning that these numbers could fall further still:
“We judge that while some of the non-monetised impacts would place downward pressure on value for money e.g. heritage and biodiversity, others would contribute to improving value for money e.g. improvements to accessibility and to station facilities at Euston. However, we cannot say whether taken together the net impact would be sufficient to move the scheme into the low value for money category, although there is a risk that this could be the case.”
Given that these numbers are, at best, mediocre why has the scheme been given the go-ahead? That’s where the politics comes in. Whilst the experts try and quantify the figures and provide a basis for rational decision, the final say so lies with our policy makers and they are quite within their rights to ignore the bald figures and make their choices as they see fit. That is the way the system works. But this is one choice we do not support.
While it is good news more money is being spent on infrastructure, it is a profound disappointment it will go on a project for which the economic, business, social and environmental case is marginal.
There are scores of other transport projects, big and small, both road and rail, which would deliver greater benefits much sooner.
By going with HS2 the Government is essentially sidelining many better value schemes and condemning people across many parts of the country to a bleak travel future.
Large chunks of the existing road and rail networks are literally at breaking point. You only need look at the chaos caused by the closure of the crumbling A4 flyover in Hammersmith to see the grim reality we face on many routes. We should be doing more to preserve what we already have before committing to a vanity project of dubious merit.
Still there is still a long way to go before the first shovel is put in the ground. Let’s see what happens.