The Secretary of State for Transport is fond of casting the debate about HS2 in terms of the reactionary NIMBYs along the route versus the progressive citizens (especially business people) in the North who can see how high speed rail will benefit the country.
But where do criticisms of HS2 actually come from?
What is increasingly evident is the broad spread of opinion critical of HS2. This ranges from the Taxpayers Alliance, worried about the cost to the taxpayer, and the Adam Smith Institute, concerned about the economics of HSR, to the Smith Institute, voicing fears that HS2 is not the main priority for the North in terms of transport infrastructure. Further reputable institutions are now joining in. The Sustainable Development Commission, in its new report, Fairness in a Car Dependent Society, says that ‘high speed rail could divert funds away from investment in local rail services’, repeats concerns that HS2 could further imbalance the economy towards London, and criticises the fact that it will primarily be used by those on high incomes.
And now even the Americans are joining in. Wendell Cox, from the St Louis public policy consultancy Demographia, in an article entitled The High Speed Battle of Britain, notes the common tendency for infrastructure projects to cost far more than budgeted and for revenues to fail to match forecasts, as has been the case with HS1.
Much more than NIMBYs
What is so noticeable is the diversity of these institutions. The Adam Smith Institute is identified with the political right, as one imagines are many supporters of the Taxpayers Alliance. This is in sharp contrast to the politics of the Smith Institute report and the ideas one would associate with the Sustainable Development Commission. Wendell Cox from the USA is concerned about the costs of high speed rail to those on middle incomes. It is impossible to cast such a broadly-based group of commentators as NIMBYS. So why does Philip Hammond continue to do so? Does he have no better arguments?