When the government proposes to spend more then £33 billion of taxpayer’s money on a single project, such as HS2, that project needs to be examined very carefully.
There are a great many ways of spending £33 billion. So it is vital, before making a commitment to a project that will take decades to complete, that it is assessed against other ways of spending taxpayer’s money.
For instance, it should be compared to other transport projects which could be put in place with £33 billion. That scale of spending could be used for numerous local transport projects, which overall will benefit millions of people in many different areas of the country. (After all, only one witness at last year’s Transport Select Committee inquiry on Transport and the Economy told them that HS2 was a top priority.)
However, £33 billion doesn’t need to be spent on transport. For instance, one way of supporting businesses would be to put in ultra high speed broadband, enabling people across the entire country to grow their businesses and create local jobs. This will cost less overall, and will start benefiting people long before the new railway could be operational.
Or it could be spent on a huge number of smaller projects: if each constituency in the country was given an equal share of that £33 billion, they would have £51 million to spend locally, on the things that benefit local people and local businesses. The priority for the area might be new schools, job creation schemes, improved hospitals or something local to the area.
However Philip Hammond has persistently sidestepped the arguments against HS2. He refuses to address the arguments against the project, criticising instead the people making them.
This shows just how weak his arguments on HS2 really are. If the case for HS2 was as strong as people like Philip Hammond wishes it was, he would focus on the rational arguments. But the case for it is too weak and the case against HS2 too strong.
PS Philip Hammond wrote to MPs saying the route from London to Manchester and Leeds will cost £33 billion.