Plans have been announced by the coalition to begin building a high-speed railway, with phase 1 estimated to be completed by 2026. The cost is estimated by the ever reliable Department for Transport to be £43 billion. Its aim is to shrink the ever widening North South divide that threatens to increase the inequality between the two regions. However, is it really necessary to invest heavily into a plan that by 2026 may be further out of date? Or should we be looking to invest the money into the current infrastructure?
The burning question that appears unanswered is to what benefit this project will be to rural communities like Cornwall. Cornwall, shut off from the rest of the country, is set to be punished economically by the HS2. Reportedly, Cornwall’s economy will be £20 million worse off, much to the disappointment of the local population. Cornwall, who has a large Liberal Democrat following, will feel cheated by the Lib Dems who ‘promised’ in their manifesto to reopen disused railways to help boost prosperity across the region – argued by many to be the more economically viable option.
However, beyond all the negativity, the HS2 does provide a realistic solution to the concentrated focus on London and the South East. Today, the economy as a whole is very much focused on London. London is the hub of trade and commerce and is where multimillion pound enterprises set up shop. The growth of the economy is provided by London and the South East alone with both regions receiving the benefits of the growth much more than the wider country. The HS2 would in theory encourage businesses to relocate up north, providing the deprived areas of the country with some investment. It would also help to support those who work in London but commute in from across the country. It would help to slow the overpopulation of London by allowing people to buy cheaper housing up North and commute in. In essence, the proposal for a new high speed would cost £43 billion, but would transform the economy of the country.
Some would argue that to be globally competitive, you need to have a modernised infrastructure. However would the creation of the HS2 really provide this, when most of the train lines in London are from the Victorian era? Although the money being spent on the HS2 is significant in size, it amounts to just 1/4 of the transport budget. That means that 3/4 of the budget is still left to revamp and fix the already overused transport links in the South East.
So what can we conclude? Well, although there is a strong argument for the HS2, we cannot ignore the inequality it will create between the South East and rural areas like Cornwall. It’s hard to see how potentially an £80 billion project (the cost a study by the Institute of Economic Affairs estimated) will cause anything but distress, burned trees and an eyesore running down the spine of this beaten nation.