Work on the highly controversial HS2 officially began last week. Those in favour expect it to create 22,000 jobs in the next few years, whilst objectors claim it could actually displace almost that many jobs.

#HS2 #cost #government #environment #transport #employment

 

In a post-Covid world, is the argument for what has ultimately been labelled “a vanity project” still relevant? Joe Bradbury discusses:

 

Way back in 2016, a survey conducted by the ITV Tonight programme found that:

  • Only 15% feel that HS2 is worth £56bn
  • 58% don’t think it’s a price worth paying
  • 77% of people would prefer that the money was spent in other areas, like the NHS
  • Nearly three-quarters of people thought HS2 would lead to price rises for train tickets
  • 60% said they would not pay more to ride on HS2
  • 7% would be prepared to pay increased prices for the high speed line
  • 80% said they felt sympathy for people who may lose their homes to HS2, even though they may be compensated
  • 11% people thought the high speed rail link would benefit the majority of commuters
  • 23% are not aware that HS2 is being planned

 

That was then. Pre-covid. Pre-Brexit. Pre-global economic downturn. Pre-depression. Imagine where public support is now? The gutter?

 

Do we need it?

At least on the surface, the primary aim of HS2 seems to be to link the north with the south, allowing commuters to broaden the area that they can work in. However, with Covid set to change the way we live and work permanently, with a cultural shift towards home-working now well underway, is this something we even need? Indeed, many employees for companies who have sent all staff home are already starting to question why they had to go in to the office in the first place. Employers who are now struggling thanks to the damage we have inflicted to our economy through misunderstanding and fear are looking at their overheads in an entirely different way.

In response to the news that work was going to begin, Stop HS2 Campaign Manager Joe Rukin said “the case for building HS2 has gone from questionable to completely non-existent. The passenger forecasts invented to justify this gargantuan white elephant started off as being grossly inflated, but now this idea that HS2 is needed because tens of thousands of people, will demand to commute even greater distances for work in the future, are just laughable. We’ve spent 10 years trying to tell tin-eared politicians that working practices will change in the future and drastically reduce the need for travel, and even now it’s happened right in front of their eyes, they refuse to accept it.”

 

 

Can we afford it?

Back in 2015, the project was expected to cost £56 billion. Now, the estimate has almost doubled with a leaked review revealing it could be up to £106 billion. Around £8 billion has already been spent on the purchase of land and property, ground investigation work, technical designs, IT systems, wages and public engagement. Can we really afford such a thing in the depths of what might be the UK’s worst recession and the wider global economic downturn?

Objectors argue no, stating that the £100+ billion being spent on HS2 should be ploughed into improving digital infrastructure in the country as we prepare for a post-Covid 19 way of working and living.

Conservative MP Esther McVey suggests that Plans for the high-speed rail line should be stopped and money ploughed into ensuring all areas of the country have high quality internet connections and no area is left behind.

Ms McVey said “Government must prioritise this new digital infrastructure. Our working and living culture are evolving so fast it has outpaced HS2 and that £100 billion investment would be better placed in IT infrastructure. We need the whole country connected not just small sections of it. We need to be online, not on a train line but online, this pandemic has proved this. We are living in a new virtual sphere and we cannot have a digital divide across the country. I do not want to see a new North-South divide or differences in cities or suburbs through a post code lottery. We must invest in technology now and grasp these opportunities for not only this generation but others to come.”

McVey isn’t alone with her objections as a member of the conservative party, the very party responsible for delivering the project. Dominic Cummings is also an outspoken critic of HS2 and there is now a coalition of around 60 dissenting voices on the Tory backbenches.

It seems that rather than connecting people, HS2 continues to divide.

The environment

This is the most important thing. You can’t make money on a dead planet.

HS2 is the most environmentally destructive project this century, with almost 700 wildlife sites under threat, and HS2 Ltd themselves even admitting it will have a negative impact on carbon emissions for over a century. This is why there are currently hundreds of activists camped out along the HS2 route, fighting to protect nature and it certainly doesn’t look like they will be going away any time soon.

Chris Packham, on behalf of the Rethink HS2 alliance of environmental organisations said “HS2 involves one of the largest deforestation programmes since the First World War, damaging more than 100 ancient woodlands along the planned route, along with dozens of wildlife habitats. If this project gets the go ahead, and I sincerely hope that it doesn’t for so many reasons, you can expect ferocious public opposition to it, and I will be happy to lead that from the environmental perspective.”

Sarah Green, founder of the Colne Valley HS2 Protection Camp added “People need to be made aware of the horrendous impact HS2 will have, especially on water supplies. If people knew what was actually happening, there would be an outcry as the chalk is prone to cracking and fissuring and working around historic landfills is a recipe for disaster. The work HS2 are conducting now must be halted.”

In summary

I always try to keep an open mind, but when it comes to a topic as polarising as HS2, it is impossible to remain on the fence. The sheer turbulence of it all will blow you off!

The most chilling revelation for me throughout lockdown is that we now have a government that does what it wants. The rushed-through coronavirus bill now grants Government powers over its citizens well beyond a reasonable period of what is necessary with this Coronavirus crisis, taking full advantage of the Covid-19 crisis as a means to control citizens with new powers of arrest, detention, quarantine and burials to name but a few.

All protest is squashed, petitions are rejected and even the very act of protesting is an illegal, punishable offence… all in the name of our safety.

The BBC turns a blind eye to genocide in China (who will likely be building HS2 for us) and the violent destruction of migrant camps in favour of turning us against one another in pointless debates about 1m vs. 2m, mask vs. no mask etc.

It seems that now, in 2020 (11 years on from HS2 being proposed), it is far easier to put forward an argument against HS2 than for it. How alarming then, that this doesn’t seem to make a jot of difference. Are we really so powerless? In spite of widespread objection from the British public, members of parliament and even members of Boris Johnson’s own party, the project plows ahead, through fields, pastures, homes, gardens, habitats and nature reserves.

This government does what it wants… and sadly it wants HS2 whether you like it or not!

Perhaps a more relevant question to ask would be this – is this really the kind of behaviour you want from your government?

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