HS2: What A Blithering Waste of Money
Taking a break from editing his own Wikipedia page, Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, has announced some of the finest news of the year. The Northern link of High Speed Two (HS2), between Manchester and Leeds, has been scrapped. While welcoming Shapps’ decision, my hope is that this is the ‘prom night special’ - just the tip.
HS2 was conceived amidst the bizarre years of George Osborne as Chancellor. With his feelings hurt from online bullies, professional-wet Osborne longed for a vanity project. His grand plan? Tackling the ‘North-South Divide’.
Needless to say, his intentions were cute. Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, England has been a nation of two halves. Separating these is the way to say grass, perception of Margaret Thatcher, friendliness towards strangers, and the acclaimed ‘Greggs/Waitrose ratio’. While Southerners name their children ‘Sixtus’ and ‘Bartholomew’, Northerners drop out of school with little qualifications nor hope for the future.
Osborne’s plan was simple: build a train. His thinking was that ‘re-distributing the prosperity’ of the South will be the solution to bridge the two halves together. He hoped this track would plug the long-lived gap in opportunity, by making it easier for both businesses to relocate away from the capital and for Northern-dwellers to commute down.
Needless to say, I am the prime person HS2 was intended for. As I terrify the tube-users of London with my small talk during the week, I am a rural Cheshire dweller by weekend. And yet, while I indulge in my weekly commuter tradition of watery Hot Chocolate and the Spectator Magazine, I notice something strange.
Before even getting to the Arts section, my Avanti carriage pulls into Euston Station. An hour and a half is the same amount of time as some who live within sixty miles of London. This is a distant reality from how Osborne made it out. At the time HS2 was conceived, the Chancellor was seemingly led to think Northerners move about on foot, possibly on a donkey if lucky.
Besides the peculiar attempt to fix an issue where one doesn’t lie, HS2 is bloody expensive. First we were told it would cost around £40 billion, then around £60 billion, now we are staring down the barrel of over £100 billion. And yet, whenever objections about cost were raised, our George scorned that such sceptics were just child-poverty loving Scrooges.
For the over £3000 each taxpayer must find to fund this project, the time saved is measly. The more ambitious of estimates place HS2 as saving around 40 minutes from commuting times, but it is becoming more likely to be around 20-30 minutes. This is not to be confused with the ‘Hyperloop’ rail lines that are around fifteen years from construction, and will not only save 20 minutes, but will take 20 minutes.
The unholy alliance of opposition between radical free-marketeers and barefoot and hair-braided LSD-addicts makes this a beautiful time to be alive. Both groups are clearly unanimous in the belief that HS2 is pure economic illiteracy. The argument that HS2 will create ‘new’ jobs that will go towards the post-Covid rebound is a strong contender for the shoddiest point ever raised. To fund such a project, the government is stealing from the economy’s right pocket, and placing the money in its left. Waiters and hairdressers who have lost their job during Covid are not going to step into the orange overalls and begin laying a track in Smethwick.
While HS2 is being constructed, it is already out of date. Unlike nearly all other nations that have been moving commuters at supersonic speeds for decades now, HS2 is stuck in traffic on the way to the party. It’s high time to end this pathetic vanity project.