What is the regional impact of HS2 likely to be?

This is a guest article by Andrew Bodman.

There have been a number of pronouncements, including those from Philip Hammond, on the regional benefits in terms of jobs that HS2 is expected to provide. Having recently browsed through the submissions made to the Transport Select Committee (published on their website), I thought it might be appropriate to highlight some of the statements made on this subject.

Professor John Tomaney has produced a 17 page report which focuses on the local and regional impacts of high speed rail. He reviews high speed rail networks in Japan, France, Germany and Spain and their effects on regional economies. His work is very well researched listing 43 reports in his bibliography. Among his conclusion are the following: However, we observed contradictions in the government’s argument and its use of theory and evidence, with barely any weight given to the role of inter-regional rail investments in contributing to local growth in the analyses of BIS, while they appear central in the arguments of DfT. We reviewed the theoretical and empirical literature on the local and regional impact of high speed rail around the world. The clear balance of this literature suggests that these impacts are ambiguous at best and negative at worst. It is very difficult to find unambiguous evidence in support of the contentions that are being made about the potential impacts of HS2 on the cities and regions of the UK. We noted the theoretical and empirical evidence that suggests investments in intra-urban and intra-regional transport systems may provide more local benefits than high-speed North-South links.

Ian Waddell has closely examined the unemployment rates in Lille and its surrounding areas using data from the French National Institute of Statistics – INSEE. He observes that unemployment has increased both in absolute terms and relative to the rest of France since the arrival of TGV. He finds a similar picture for Lyon when analysing the department and region in which it is based. He concludes: Therefore there appears very little evidence that investment in high speed rail in France has had any significant impact in reducing regional and local economic disparities based on the most obvious yardstick – unemployment. Over a period of nearly thirty years since TGV services started running, there has clearly been no “transformational” effect, in fact the evidence shows that disparities appear to have worsened.

Professor Mike Geddes has researched information from several sources including Cambridge Econometrics and concludes:

* The forecasts of the regional employment implications of HS2 produced by government or by supporters of the project are subject to serious qualifications. This is especially the case regarding the wider employment impacts.

* When these qualifications are taken into account, it is very difficult to sustain the prediction that, overall, the employment impact of HS2 would reduce the North-South divide. This is consistent with the weight of wider evidence, relating to both the UK and other countries, that the geographical impact of new transport investments is likely to principally benefit the largest cities (in this case, the London region) [14] .

* Even on the most optimistic – and highly unlikely – scenario for supporters of HS2, any reduction in the jobs gap would fail by a large margin to stop the North-South divide widening at its current rate, let alone produce ‘transformational change’.

Joanne Staton observed: OECD report concluded that there was no evidence in Europe of regeneration resulting from High Speed Rail investments. Interestingly, ‘Paid-for’ vested reports support regenerative effects (e.g. Centro), academic reports (e.g. Imperial College, Warwick University, OECD) do not.

These particular comments come from a few of the submissions to the TSC. However, they are based on a great deal of detailed research as to what has actually happened in several countries in the last thirty years. If HS2 is given the green light, there are several cities which may be ultimately disappointed when the much talked of economic benefits are perhaps not matched by reality.

2 comments to “What is the regional impact of HS2 likely to be?”
  1. Excellent distillation of the evidence that HS2 will not give value for money. With evidence like this it is no wonder that the usual pro HS2 correspondents on this website have so far refrained from commenting on this article.

    • Of course reports like this will also appear before the Transport Select Committee, who so far from what I can see have been very fair.

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