DAVID CAMERON believes major infrastructure projects like HS2 have stalled because Britain continues to be “blighted by a nimbyist aversion to doing anything radical or big or expensive”.
The intervention puts Mr Cameron on another collision course with Boris Johnson after the new prime minister ordered a review into the viability of the £56bn high-speed rail project.
Mr Johnson’s inquiry comes after he was lobbied by Conservative activists during this year’s leadership contest about the cost – and also its environmental impact – on the first phase between London and Birmingham which is already under construction.
However Mr Cameron uses his new memoir, For The Record, to defend his government’s record on transport and environmental policy in the wake of his husky photo shoot in the Arctic which was dismissed as “a PR stunt”.
“We proved beyond doubt that you could both cut carbon and cut the deficit, and we quietly became the greenest government Britain had ever seen,” writes Mr Cameron.
“Environmentalism was about the long term – and so was my approach to infrastructure. More investment in railways than at any time since the Victorians.”
Defending the investment in London’s new Crossrail line, the former Tory leader concedes that his approach to HS2 – and planned spurs to Leeds and Manchester – was shaped by the last Labour government.
“It was absurd that you could get from London to Paris on high-speed rail, but not from London to Manchester,” he added. “This was setting us back in the global race.
“So the debate about HS2 was about more than productivity, or the cost of living, or even our electoral prospects. It was about the will of the West. Did we still have the stomach to do the big things? I believed we did.”
Though Mr Cameron cites the creation of the Northern Powerhouse as one of his domestic policy successes, one “regret”, he says, was a failure to confront the UK’s long-term airport needs and, specifically, a third runway at Heathrow Airport. “And yet...we decided to push it into the next Parliament,” he rues.