The SNP have reacted angrily to a leak from HS2 Ltd to The Independent on Sunday, which states an unpublished report concludes there is no economic case for extending HS2 to Scotland. Whilst they are right to be angry about the fact the report, like final route for the Phase 2 of HS2 and potential cuts to ongoing Network Rail projects, was clearly held back until after the election, the outcome of the report should be of no surprise.
It is not that there is no business case for extending HS2 to Scotland, it’s that there is not and has never been a business case for HS2 full stop. The case made by the UK Government for HS2 has been heavily criticised by every independent body which has looked into it since the start of the project. The National Audit Office first concluded that the economic benefits of HS2 are unclear, and that it had reservations about how it would deliver growth and jobs. The Public Accounts Committee said the economic case for HS2 was “very questionable”, that the Department for Transport had “failed to present a convincing strategic case” and had used “fragile numbers, out-of-date data and assumptions which do not reflect real life”. Weeks before the election in March, the Lords Economic Affairs Committee said they found it difficult to have any faith in 82% of the projected benefits of HS2, and that that whilst Government has set two main objectives for HS2: increasing capacity and rebalancing the economy, a convincing case for either had not been made.
The Lords also posed a shopping list of 16 questions they thought needing answering before the Bill for Phase 1 of HS2 goes through Parliament, and in November HS2 Ltd Chairman Sir David Higgins admitted that the Major Projects Authority had 75 different complex questions about HS2 which had not been addressed or made public. Reports from many other independent organisations have reached similar conclusions about HS2, which since its announcement in 2010 has been beset by spiralling costs and falling benefits. Another recurring theme is that independent observers have studied international evidence, which suggests that far from rebalancing the economy, HS2 would serve only to drag more economic activity to London.
Stop HS2 Campaign Manager Joe Rukin responded:
“It’s not that there is no business case for extending HS2 to Scotland, it’s that there is no business case for this white elephant at all. There never has been a case for HS2, but sadly the SNP have swallowed the spin from Government and a strong vested interest lobby group, that HS2 is somehow going to be this magic wand to solve all ills. The reality is that HS2 is a vanity project which has been trashed by all the independent bodies that have looked into it, and would cost well over the £50bn which is currently quoted as the final bill.”
“As it is certain an SNP MP will now be called to serve on the HS2 Hybrid Bill Committee, the party really need to get to grips with what HS2 represents. Far from spreading economic growth, HS2 will just act as a magnet to London and ever increasing costs will surely mean cuts have to be made elsewhere. If the SNP spend more time analysing the independent evidence on HS2, they will quickly realise they should not be campaigning for HS2 to come to Scotland, they should be campaigning to stop HS2 altogether.”
Penny Gaines, chair of Stop HS2 said:
“The government has failed to make any case for HS2, not only to Scotland. Just to cobble together a business case for HS2 to Birmingham, relies on using the fastest possible speed whilst ignoring the fact that people actually work on trains. HS2 Ltd are a year overdue on making public what will happen with Phase 2 to Manchester. What is more HS2 Ltd’s fourth iteration of plans for the changes necessary at Euston will mean disruption there from 2017 to 2033, which would have a knock on effect for many travellers from Scotland to London. Expecting HS2 Ltd to make the case for high speed rail to Scotland is like expecting the Tooth Fairy to leave a train set under your pillow.”
“While the SNP might want to travel to the continent by train, they won’t be able to do it on HS2. David Higgins, chair of HS2, dropped the link from HS2 to HS1 last year. He said at the time it was to save money, as there are huge engineering problems with it which the engineers haven’t been able to solve. Anyone concerned about the environment should be aware that HS2 Ltd themselves say that the carbon costs of building HS2 may never be offset.”