Earlier today, the Department for Transport issued details of a so-called “HS2 Growth Taskforce”. They try to make it sound impressive – but once more there is a lot of spin, trying to put gloss on a vanity project.
For instance, the press release says about the people selected to be on the task force “They know the huge benefits large scale infrastructure projects can bring if they are done in the right way.” However, the members of the taskforce, which includes Pete Waterman, are almost all people who will gain from HS2 even if it is done wrong.
Some large scale infrastructure projects can bring benefits: but the first step is to make sure you are building the right project. The wrong project will suck taxpayer’s money and talent from other better projects.
With HS2, right from the start the project was being done for the wrong reasons. As Lord Mandelson said speaking to the Financial Times earlier this month “We were on the eve of a general election and keen to paint an upbeat view of the future.” A project started as part of an election campaign, without looking at “the detailed facts and figures of an investment that did not present us with any immediate spending choices“, or comparing it to other ways of spending taxpayer money – that’s a project being done in the wrong way, no matter who is on any taskforce.
Patrick McLoughlin says “We have no choice but to address the increasing demands on our transport system that Britain will face in the next decade to be able to compete in the global economic race.”
Unfortunately for McLoughlin, HS2 won’t open in ten years time: the Phase 1 section will not open until 2027. But even with Phase 2 open, it will have limited effects on the transport system as a whole: as we reported earlier this week, even the Dft, don’t think it will noticeably reduce demand for road traffic. Meanwhile companies like HS2 Ltd themselves are making use of digital technology to hold meetings.
Again McLoughlin ignores what happened with the original Eurostar station: “Building on the success of HS1 and its role in the transformation of Kings Cross, HS2 will act as catalyst to city centre regeneration and major development schemes.”
Key figures like Frank Dobson, MP, and Sarah Haywood, leader of Camden Council wanted the Eurostar HS1 terminal at Kings Cross, but they can also see the damage that HS2 will cause to the area around Euston. Meanwhile, the former Eurostar platforms at Waterloo stand unused, five years after the terminus moved away.
However, in evidence to the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill from people in favour of HS2, the cost of regeneration around the stations will be an extra cost. Even the link to HS1 is not included in the £50 billion price tag for HS2.
However the chair of the new committee is concerned about whether the revised budget will be enough:
“But Lord Deighton admitted in an interview with the Financial Times that the project would have to be managed with “great rigour” to prove to people it could be delivered within its new budget. “That’s absolutely critical,” he said.”
Finally, at the end of the Financial Times report, it says that task force will be looking at the creation of a New Town – we warned of this in March last year.