“We should look sceptically at grand plans and utopian visions” said David Cameron at the Lord Mayor’s banquet last night.
Although David Cameron was talking about Europe, he should also use this scepticism when he looks at HS2.
We are often told that the Europeans embrace high speed rail, and that we should welcome it with the same fervour. In reality, there is a growing opposition to high speed rail from ordinary people: in the Susa Valley project in Italy, in Stuttgart, and elsewhere.
In Britain, we do have high speed railways: the West Coast Main Line, the East Coast Main line and the Great Western Line are all high speed railways, according to European definitions. We should celebrate them, rather then allow politicians to denigrate what we have.
There are serious high level concerns in Europe about the cost of high speed rail – for instance, earlier this year the finances of the Dutch high speed company were discussed in the Netherlands Parliament, because of the parlous state of the company’s finances. (The company is 95% state owned.)
If HS2 went ahead, we would spend more per kilometre on this high speed railway then any other country in the world, but the relative saving will be significantly less. It takes less time to get to our large cities from London then from other European capitals to their regional cities. If others are questioning the cost of their lines, shouldn’t we be concerned about the cost of ours?
Here at Stop HS2, we hope that David Cameron holds true to his intention to look sceptically at “grand plans and utopian visions”. And we hope he starts with HS2.