Trident and HS2: Senseless megaprojects or jobs?

A variation of this article was first published as The choice for Labour: Senseless megaprojects or jobs? by Mike Geddes on HS2, the Regional Impact.

Writing in the Guardian recently, two Labour MPs try to make the case for the Trident nuclear submarine programme by arguing that abandoning it would do major damage to Britain’s manufacturing base, putting at risk more than 11,000 jobs. They estimate the cost of renewing Trident at up to £17bn.

By chance, this is the same cost as Phase 1 of another megaproject supported by Labour, HS2, though if we add together Phases 1 and 2 of HS2 (the ‘Y’ from London to Manchester and Leeds) the full cost is at least £34bn. The government estimates this will ‘create’ 100, 000 jobs (though in practice many of these will not be new but relocated near HS2 stations from elsewhere).

The second similarity between these two megaprojects is that neither serves a social function which is remotely a priority, especially in today’s austerity conditions. Trident’s independent nuclear deterrent confronts a non-existent external military threat. HS2 cuts a bit off journey times between a few major cities but does nothing to deal with the day to day transport needs of the mass of the population, and is likely to worsen, not reduce, north-south disparities.

The third similarity between HS2 and Trident is that there are better alternatives. Even the Labour MPS who support Trident recognise that it would be possible to save money by building greater numbers of smaller submarines and smaller weapons and warheads to go in them. In the case of HS2, improving the existing rail network would deal with current capacity problems much quicker and more cheaply.

So what about jobs? The final similarity between Trident and HS2 is that they are both ludicrously expensive in terms of job creation. If HS2 really were to create 100,000 jobs, as the government suggests, at a cost of £34bn, this amounts to £340,000 per job. Trident’s 11,000 jobs for £17bn come at an eye-watering £1.5m each! In comparison, a normal cost per job figure for employment created through regeneration projects would be £32,000. On this basis, HS2’s £34bn and Trident’s £17bn would together produce over 1.5m jobs in total.

So what do our politicians really want? It is easy to see why an MP with the Barrow shipyard in his constituency would support Trident, just like MPs and councillors in the (very few) cities which could benefit from HS2. But surely it is time to look beyond such localised interests, and ditch these white elephant megaprojects and spend the money saved in ways which are far more useful and would create far more jobs – in local transport, urban regeneration, energy infrastructure, affordable housing and green technologies?

16 comments to “Trident and HS2: Senseless megaprojects or jobs?”
  1. John Webber says:
    Apr 15, 2013 at 3:31 pm

    What is also absurd is a train that doesn’t stop between l and b and costs 17 billion of borrowed money
    I don’t have the maths skills to calculate the cost per passenger,not passenger journeys,but let’s always remember that only 3 million people ever use the trains and only 8% of journeys are by rail

    • John, I tried to get my maths skills improved by putting the following calculation in a letter to HS2 Ltd:

      In 2055 it is forecast that 590,000 people are expected to travel on the HSR (high speed rail) network each day.
      With the June 2010 UK population at 61,800,000, and growth projected at 6 million in 20 years, that makes a total UK population of at least 67,800,000.
      Therefore, unless the population drops dramatically, the new high speed network will carry only 590,000 passengers each day out of a total population of 67,800,000.
      (590,000 divided by 67,800,000) x 100 = 0.87%
      That will leave 67,210,000 (THAT’S 99.13%) of the UK population to either not travel or find another mode of transport.

      I fear that, after this enormous investment, only a tiny fraction of our population will have their travel needs well catered for by the new rail network. Our other transport networks will still be overcrowded.

      Are we forfeiting our beautiful countryside and spending £33+ billion to no benefit to the vast majority of our population?


      As it’s ‘cracking on’, I actually want someone to prove that my calculation is wrong.

      • Gloria, thank you for your conclusions which I’m sure would echo many thoughts of those living the 1830s close to the original London to Birmingham or the Liverpool to Manchester railway lines.

        ( It was certainly felt by many living in the scattered villages of the Chilterns as the “Met.” pushed out towards them in the later part of the century.)

        “What’s the need? We have turnpikes and coal and lime can be carried by canal! Why should these railways be allowed to carve up the countryside and foment discontent among the local people whose lives will be so disrupted. And anyhow, most people neither need nor wish to travel- our local market town supplies all their needs, thank you very much…”

        Doubtless many had felt the same about those canals- not to mention the reaction of the locals when those dreadful Roman legions carved their way across the land, stamping their alien- European- imperial authority on free born Britons, destroying so much of “all that we hold dear” in the process.
        Who needs Watling Street, anyway?

        And when it comes to the Kingston Bypass, or worse, that New Southend Road- just think how much W.C French (French?!) made building that!

        *** Whether it’s the M.1, a new reservoir, an airport extension or the projected new Forth bridge, any major scheme, be it state funded or private, must be disruptive to a degree, but once completed and in use, tends to be used, accepted and taken for granted.

      • Your maths makes no sense at all. It assumes that the same people will travel each journey every day, if different people travel each time it will carry 590,000 x 364 days = 214,760,000! The truth is some where in between. Some people will use it few times each year and some will use it more frequently.

  2. I think hs2 should be built in one big tunel from London to Birmingham .i know this will cost more but the saving they would make in compension claims and impact on people’s lives must be worth it .why not ask the people in the consultion the question ,after all they are the people what willbe giving up 15years of there lives in construction ofthis project for the benefit of the people using this transport .and would add if they can not afford to do this project it should be left for a time in the future when the country can afford to do it propley .and to see if it is needed then

      • Oh can we?Yet “we” can’t afford to run local hospitals,police , fire stations and libraries .To mention but a few vital services.Many can’t afford to keep warm in winter,or live on pitiful pensions. Far from” the project being done in the future” it has already cost a great deal of money over the last three years,before even being properly debated in Parliament.

    • An Excellent Idea, J.D.

      And should we not also include long arched roofs to cover urban motorways and busy suburban routes- just think how many jobs would be created building a “roof” over the M.25 or the Manchester ring!

      The next step would be the creation of an elevated plastic tube – a mere half mile diameter should suffice- through which aircraft could fly in and out of Heathrow without disturbing the millions living beneath the flight path.

      This would surely be a “green” solution to the blight of noise and pollution- truly a project worthy of the 21st century!

      • You’re missing the point John- it could run in a tunnel between L & B because it does not stop anywhere in between!!

        • John you are deliberately misinterpreting jw. he was pointing out that your idea is not viable. the fact that is doesnt stop between l and b doesnt mean that logically it can be in a tunnel all the way – maybe you have tunnel vision.

          as far as jw’s idea of a plastic tube from heathrow by your reckoning this should extend to say sydney as planes are capable of flying there now non stop !

          • Please don’t tell me what I am doing
            I didn’t misinterpret jw at all and do not accept it is not viable so please explain why

            As for planes in a tube that is just too absurd to comment on

            • John, “too absurd for words.”

              My point exactly- and it would be equally absurd to construct 120 miles of buried railway all the way from London to Birmingham and beyond- and in truth nobody would ever contemplate doing it except where the geography or environmental reasons made it inevitable or at very least urgently desirable .

              Also, except in special circumstances, such as the cut and cover section at Hatfield, or the crossing of the Epping Forest ridge( M.25) nobody is seriously planning to deck over our motorways.

              It’s curious that people can tolerate living and working in close proximity to dual carriageways and even 8 lane motorways (10 lanes at the Loudwater Jct.3 at Wycombe) with all the continual noise,the rumble and especially the awful tyre noise on a wet day, and exhaust fumes- all this, and yet a railway, occupying half the width of a typical motorway- certainly not “at least twice the width…” as some leaflets have alleged – that such a railway should provoke such passion and fury.

  3. Firstly on your point about a non-present military threat. Whether there is a threat currently is a matter of opinion, and even if there isn’t doesn’t mean that there won’t be in coming years. Just because you don’t intend to crash your car, or burn down your house, or lose your life, doesn’t mean that you don’t buy insurance for them.

    Second, on your point about improving the current rail network being more effective for dealing with capacity problems than HS2. All I have to say here is that you clearly work from home and do not use the trains to commute.

    • Further to Jim’s last point, are we not in the midst of massive upgrading- or in many cases, of restoration all over the Network?

      * North Cotswold line, Oxford- Worcester restored to double track (mostly)-
      * South Cotswold Swindon-Kemble section restoration to double track
      * Chiltern mainline -the series of “Evergreen” improvements and restorations with more in the pipeline…
      * Complete rebuilding of part of the Waverley route in the Scottish borders…
      And Reading station is being both rebuilt and enlarged in preparation for G.W. electrification to Wales…

      But all these schemes have involved periods of closure, diversion where alternative routes survive ( post Beeching and “economic rationalisation”)- and “bustitution”.

      Furthermore recent reports suggest that the southern section of the West Coast line track infrastructure is in urgent need of renewal and is living on borrowed time.

      If Network Rail believes two further tracks are needed, are any of us really qualified to deny?

        • so where are you going to get your information regarding railway and hs2 issues from then – you could try Modern railways or Rail but then i guess you would say you dont trust those either. Or you could look at the latest passenger growth figures. but maybe those are suspect too. Oy maybe you might just believe what some of the papers say – not a very good idea in my opinion but there you go.

          We currently have the North Korean situation to deal with so maybe scrapping Trident wouldn’t be such a good idea although of course we already have too many weapons in the world as it is. Also the fact that the usa has so many weapons doesnt seem to be deterring teh North Koreans much but that is likely bluster. Finally I confess a bias towards Barrow as I have strong connections with the area.

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