Writing for Infrastructure Intelligence Dan Lewis, Senior Infrastructure Policy Adviser at the Institute of Directors, has explained why the Northern Powerhouse is more important than HS2.
He writes about the ‘triple challenge’ facing the UK rail industry – the opportunity cost of building HS2, the unsustainable debt of £39 billion owned by Network Rail, and the ‘Rail Blob’ which he describes as ‘an amorphous cost-raising coalition of civil servants, railway unions, engineering companies, train builders, lawyers and consultancies who micromanage and over-engineer’.
But as Dan points out the Department for Transport is not a protected department meaning that it can expect spending cuts –
“So we need to be asking hard questions in a cash-constrained world, is the return higher from investing in inter-city agglomeration like HS2 or metropolitan agglomeration like the London Overground line?”
“We can’t afford to do it all and understanding agglomeration – increasing population density and economic opportunities through the transport network is key. It’s almost always the case that you can move more people, more frequently at lower cost and create more economic growth within a city than between them.
“That’s why if I had to choose, I’d go for the Northern Powerhouse over HS2 any day. And we should be wary of believing that HS2 will stick to its £50bn price tag. As Professor Flybjerg, an expert in global megaprojects at the Oxford Business School says, High Speed Trains have round the world shown a 44.7% cost overrun and a demand shortfall of 51.4%.”
And just like many other commentators, Dan reminds us that “self-driving cars and unimaginably fast broadband networks” are “just over the horizon”.