Anger as high-speed rail link to London branded ‘vanity project’

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A REPORT claiming there are serious economic flaws in the case for high-speed rail has been accused of “parroting misinformation” and ignoring the network’s economic boost to Yorkshire.

The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) branded the scheme to build a 225mph network linking London and Yorkshire a “political vanity project” like Concorde or the Millennium Dome.

It said the scheme was based on “bogus assumptions” and would cost each income tax payer £1,000, while it also questioned the green credentials of the network, which would take up to 45 minutes off journeys from Leeds to London.

But the Government has attacked its conclusions, saying the alternative would mean leaving commuters facing ever more congested trains, while pro-high-speed rail campaigners described some of the claims as “grossly disingenuous”.

The report comes during a fierce battle over the £32bn High Speed Two (HS2) project. The Government is consulting on plans for a line from London to Birmingham, followed by branches further north in a “Y” shape – one to South Yorkshire and Leeds and the other to Manchester.

Supporters and critics of the project, which is calculated to be worth billions of pounds to the Yorkshire economy when the Leeds branch opens in 2033, have been giving evidence in recent weeks to the Commons Transport Select Committee which is carrying out an inquiry into the project. The route of the first phase, cutting through Tory heartlands in the Chilterns, has provoked angry objections to the project.

The IEA said Government estimates of demand on the route were over-optimistic, said the first five miles of the route from London’s Euston station to Old Oak Common, would add £4bn to the cost but deliver negligible time savings and said significant environmental and social costs were not included in the assessment of the economic case.

It questioned the green credentials because of the demands for power it will make on the National Grid and said evidence that the scheme would help bridge the North-South divide were largely speculative.

IEA deputy editorial director Dr Richard Wellings, a co-author of the report, said: “HS2 is another political vanity project – like Concorde and the Millennium Dome – being ploughed ahead with complete disregard for properly thought through commercial prospects or the mounting opposition to it.

“Its environmental credentials are questionable, its projected passenger figures suspect and its proposed regenerative effects highly dubious.”

He went on: “Proceeding with the HS2 plans is a recipe for disaster and, as always, it will be the forever embattled British taxpayer who will end up footing the bill for this latest white elephant.”

The director of the Campaign for High Speed Rail, David Begg, said: “The IEA have completely failed to grasp the wider benefits of the project, which will create jobs, boost investment and spread the economic wealth of this country to places outside of London and south-east England.

“I would expect better from an otherwise reputable think-tank than to parrot misinformation and repackage the propaganda of opponents to the project who are clearly motivated by a mixture of small-state ideology and ‘not-in-my-back-yard’ attitudes.”

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “The Government’s proposals for a new high-speed rail (HSR) network would deliver £44bn in economic benefits for the country and support broader job creation, regeneration and economic growth.

“The alternative, according to the IEA, would be for the Government to stop investing in the railways, close many of the railway lines that currently exist and sit on its hands as ticket prices get higher, performance deteriorates and crowding increases.

“This Government believes in supporting the railways as a way of driving economic growth, improving connectivity and providing a cleaner and greener alternative to short-haul aviation and more journeys by car.

“In short, HS2 is not something this country can afford to ignore.”