So Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls says there should be “no blank cheque” to build HS2. Well that’s stating the obvious – surely no government project should have a limitless budget. But that doesn’t mean the high speed rail scheme shouldn’t go ahead.
As I’ve said in the past I am a HS2 supporter. I think it will be good for business and good for linking up the North and South.
But like anyone, I expect the government to keep a tight control over the costs. Surely that’s what every taxpayer thinks?
Just because something is difficult and presents a number of challenges doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. Remember all the concerns about London hosting the Olympics? Remember how fantastic the London Games were?
It seems odd to shy away from a project which could boost the economy by billions each year (some say up to £14 billion but I accept that is only a projection) and relieve overcrowded passenger trains because we’re not sure we can stop the costs spiralling out of control. Surely nothing would ever get done in this country, on a large or small scale, if we adopted that attitude.
A recent KPMG report on the scheme, which will link London to Birmingham and to Manchester and Leeds, said the scheme would be of huge benefit to the regions and create 20,000 construction jobs and 100,000 in the longer term.
It would also provide much-needed capacity. The West Coast Main Line – currently the quickest rail route between London and Birmingham – will be “effectively full” by 2024. By doing nothing to counter this, we would be strangling opportunities for growth.
HS2 is by no means cheap, it has a £42.6bn budget, with a contingency fund of £14.4bn. But if you add up the financial gain to the nation – billions each year – along with increased rail capacity and reduced lorry journeys it makes sense to me.
It’s also interesting to note that France’s flagship TGV services have been travelling 200mph (322km/h) since 1981. Here we are in Britain, some 30 years later, discussing whether to build a high speed rail network ourselves. Surely it’s time we caught up with rest of Europe on this issue.