Left-leaning think tank the New Economics Foundation claims 40% of the benefits of HS2 would go to London with just 18% going to Merseyside and the North West. Tony McDonough reports
If the HS2 high speed rail project goes ahead it will widen the North-South divide, a new report claims.
Since the project linking London with the North was first announced in 2011 the expected cost has spiralled from £33bn to £56bn and the latest study, from left-leaning think tank the New Economics Foundation (NEF) casts doubt on its economic benefits.
HS2 has strong support among North West business and political leaders with many believing it could be transformational for the region. Last week Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram put forward a plan for a new station for Liverpool city centre to accommodate high-speed rail.
However, the NEF’s report claims 40% of the economic benefits would go to London and the South East with the North West securing just 18% of the benefits. The organisation says the money would be better spent on smaller regional projects.
Liverpool city region would undoubtedly benefit from increased rail capacity, not just for passenger services but also for freight. Peel Ports has invested £750m in its Liverpool2 container terminal and is looking to persuade shipping lines to switch from Southern English ports to the Mersey.
It believes it can revolutionise the UK logistics network but says increased capacity on road and rail is essential if that ambition is to become reality. Prime Minister Theresa May says she remains committed to HS2 despite significant opposition from within her own party.
There is a view among some business and political leaders in the region that HS2 is far from perfect but if it was the only high-speed rail project on offer then it would be better to have it than not.
There is also considerable support for a high-speed line across the North from Liverpool through Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Hull and Newcastle being championed as part of Transport for the North’s ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’ campaign. It is estimated the project would cost £39bn.
The NEF report, which was commissioned by Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland, which has opposed HS2, says that despite accounting for just under 25% of the UK’s economy, two-fifths of the passenger benefits – such as shorter journey times – would go to London.
Andrew Pendleton, the director of policy at the NEF and one of the report’s authors, said: “Investment in the UK’s railways is urgently needed, but HS2 is trickle-down transport policy.
“It will be used by the wealthiest travellers, intensify the north-south investment divide and is a standalone project that simply does not integrate well enough into the existing network. It’s an expensive answer in search of a question.”
NEF is instead proposing a new national rail investment fund with a focus on specific regional rail project, including full electrification of much of the Northern rail network and the reopening of the trans-Pennine Woodhead line between Manchester and Sheffield to provide a fourth east-west link in the north.
Describing HS2 as a “white elephant” Mike Childs, head of science, policy and research at Friends of the Earth, added: “Transport is the UK’s biggest source of climate wrecking emissions.
“In order to deal with the climate crisis, we know that we have to encourage people out of their cars, but right now cycling across much of England is unsafe, bus routes are being cut, and far too many trains are overcrowded, late and ridiculously expensive.
“White elephants like HS2 aren’t the answer. It will take over a decade to build, destroy ancient woodlands and only 4% of those projected to use HS2 would otherwise have driven.”