HS2 and putting a price on support

First published by 51M:

Leeds has followed Sheffield and Birmingham in seeking more finance for the high speed line.

The sequence is becoming familiar.

 First – wholehearted support for HS2…no ifs not buts.

Second – allow this support to become more nuanced using words and phrases like legacy, once in a 100-year opportunity and full-scale revamp. Of course, up until recently ‘Northern Powerhouse’ would have been thrown in for good measure but that part of the vision has unfortunately been “paused”.

Third – roll everything into a more impressive megaproject, keeping well clear of saying how it will be paid for.

Actually, Leeds aspirations may chime with HS2 Ltd’s head Sir David Higgins. Broadening this part of the scheme may see HS2 become part of a larger development project. Almost imperceptibly, HS2 will re-emerge as one element of an expanded plan.

If one might look into the future this may be the shape of things to come – one way, in theory, for HS2 to keep anywhere near its £50bn budget. Given the Department for Transport is facing severe cuts to its future spending, public funding does not look feasible. So we can expect efforts to attract private sector involvement. With this comes the risk that the potentially profitable areas will be privatised while costs – construction and operation, are left with the taxpayer.

Of course, in terms of vison plus Euston station is the daddy of them all. As Frank Dobson pointed out recently in the Guardian, handling the passenger volumes at Euston once phase 2 of HS2 is complete will need Crossrail 2, estimated at £25bn plus the underground St Pancras/ superstation, which is as yet uncosted.

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