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HS2 won’t solve the North’s economic problems – it might make them worse

30 October 2013

As Isabel says, the HS2 brigade are on a roll. Not only are Labour now under serious pressure over the party’s support or otherwise for the project, each day brings a new headline about the advantages of high speed rail.

Today, the money quote comes from David Prout, the HS2 director general. He says that, without high speed rail, London would become ‘a global city surrounded by rust belt’. The Times leader page dutifully regurgitates Westminster’s fodder: ‘If the map of Britain is not to become a literal illustration of Disraeli’s two nations, the tracks must be laid.’

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At first this is a compelling argument. It seems obvious that a quicker link between capital Birmingham and Manchester would help alleviate some of the disparity between North and South. Obvious, but not necessarily true. Infrastructure experts
are not convinced that rapid rail connections spread the wealth around.

On the contrary, some evidence suggests that – since train lines go both ways – high speed services can suck more capital towards the capital.

Moreover, far from benefitting, many of north’s smaller cities – those who are not on or immediately around the high speed line – might find themselves ever more isolated and poor. The North has huge economic problems. A shiny new train line won’t necessarily solve them. It might just make things worse.

HS2_trainNigel Farage, Matthew Parris, Rory Sutherland and Cheryl Gillan  will debate whether the government should ‘Stop HS2!‘ on 31 October 2013 in Westminster. Click here to book tickets.

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  • nae a belger

    For the part of the (current) UK which concerns me (Aberdeenshire, Banffshire and Moray) the expected gains from HS2 are claimed to be -£220million.

    So we see our industries ruined (fisheries being the one profitable industry that has effectively been shut down not due to inefficiency but for political expediency via the CFP) and our taxes going to a project that makes us worse off…

    Gee thanks, but at least the scheme will make the Midlands of England quicker to get to from London.

  • CharlietheChump

    Just watch HS2 suck what remaining economic life there is out of the Midlands and North.
    Still all those Civil Servants and Ministers will get to and fro when they want to.

  • The Laughing Cavalier

    Cost benefit analysis is joke. It is arbitrary and dependent on assumptive inputs. In short, Voodoo Economics.

  • Robert Taggart

    NO2 HS2 – rust belt or not !

  • Rhoda Klapp8

    May I ask by what mechanism this scheme will deliver these mooted economic benefits to towns and cities in the north which have previously been unattainable despite connections by rail, air, motorway, telephone and internet?

    Look, the north is not a basket case. It is already connected to London, for what good that does. This scheme is not likely to give much of a stimulus. If the question was how can we deliver economic benefit to the north, this would not be the most efficient solution. Deregulation, planning rule changes, fracking and just plain enterprise should be considered. And if a faster version of 19th century tech really is what is needed, do it with private money, don’t declare a money trough for whoever fancies a dip.

    • HookesLaw

      Perhaps look at the work of Professor Peter Hall and Chia-Lin Chen of the Bartlett School of Planning, UCL ?

      • Rhoda Klapp8

        Don’t see a link to the actual work, but perhaps you could precis the mechanism? The exclusive mechanism. Exactly how do a few hudred people travelling on a train bring an economic advantage? I can see how no or bad links could kill growth, but I can’t see how that effect would not be subject to diminishing returns as the links improve. When you already have a 125 train and planes and motorways and all that.

        • dalai guevara

          The links are overheating. Improve the links, all links.
          Do it in an orderly fashion.

    • Denis_Cooper

      According to John Redwood today:

      “In its latest version of Why HS2? the government bases its financial case largely on time savings, not on capacity improvements. The government published the Strategic Case for HS2 yesterday. It said that time savings accounted for £45.7bn of the estimated benefits, with solving overcrowding offering just £7.5bn of benefits. Total benefits came out at £71.2bn over 60 years.

      I was surprised to see this major reliance on the time savings, in view of the words about capacity mattering much more than time. The time savings have been newly valued. The estimators have lowered the value of business people’s time spent on the railway, but increased the value of commuter time and leisure traveller time. They have then added in £13.3bn of wider economic benefits, to get to a more favourable cost/benefit ratio for the total project.”

      Well, as far as the supposed £53 billion benefits for saving time and solving overcrowding were concerned they would be split between using it to travel up and then back down and those using it to travel down and then back up, and who knows how the supposed £13 billion of “wider economic benefits” would be distributed?

      • Rhoda Klapp8

        If I use the time saving in the morning to stay in bed a little longer and the saving in the evening to sit in front of the telly, where is the benefit? And who is the arrogant guesser who presumes to quantify it?

        • Denis_Cooper

          That’s a question asked by others on Redwood’s blog.

        • rhys

          You’re asking a classic ‘Emperor has no Clothes’ question, just as I have done on various fora with my one, namely ‘ if the problem is a need for more seats on the trains, shouldn’t upgrading the lines to take double-decker trains be at minimum costed so that possible solution can be compared / contrasted ? ‘

          Believe me – you will NEVER get an answer to your excellent question. The conspiracy of mediocrity which governs our country probably can’t even understand the point you are making, let alone provide a serious answer to it.

          Your point is even more valid when you factor in EXISTING excellent means of communication such as video-‘phoning, likely to be improved with hologram technology long before they even PLAN to finish HS2 !

          Most business journeys are probably already redundant / unnecessary. Job interviews, for example, are already fairer if conducted by telephone ( without video ) and quite a few important organizations ( eg UN ) already do them that way and for that reason, as well as to save costs and disruption in travel.

          Why can’t all these ridiculous ‘ I am a Young Executive’ type Meetings take place over Skype ??

          It would be fascinating if someone could analyse every single journey made in First Class from say Manchester to London on one morning train and just write up every single journey, asking the traveller what would have been lost by conducting the discussions by ‘phone or Skype ?

          Now that’s research which would be well worth funding.

  • HookesLaw

    More fanciful rubbish from the idiot Gray. ‘some’ evidence. Like what and how hard?
    ‘might ‘ and might not.
    He will be quiet soon though after he has thrown what remains of his toys out of the pram.

  • Denis_Cooper

    Taking a fairly simplistic view on this, if the government were to drop this large lump of spending from its future plans then instead it could cut business taxes in those parts of the country which are lagging behind in economic development, so encouraging private investment in those areas and increasing private sector employment where that is most needed, thus immediately reducing its benefits bill and eventually increasing its tax revenue as well, and so making it much easier to change its annual budget deficit into a surplus so that it could make a start in paying down its accumulated debt.

    Couldn’t that be a much better use of the money?

    • HookesLaw

      And with such success we would find the rail links even more overcrowded ?
      HS2 spending will work out at about 2 billion a year.

      • Denis_Cooper

        See what John Redwood has to say about that overcrowding, at the link I gave above.

        “I could not find figures in the Report about current use of seats out of London in the morning and back into London in the evening. The Report seems to concentrate on journeys into London at the morning peak and out of London in the late afternoon peak. The table showing where there will be shortage and stress in the system illustrates that the main capacity problems lie in commuter journeys at peak into London from Watford and Milton Keynes, into Manchester from Stockport and into St Pancras from St Albans.”

        By all means put him right on that if you know better.

      • Denis_Cooper

        But at least you appear to consider that cutting business taxes in the lagging areas could be effective in speeding them up …

        • HookesLaw

          I am all in favour of low taxes and limiting govt spending and making it efficient. Cuting spending and keeping it down is a long hard and tedious business and we start from an inflated base.
          I for one do not think we can rely on Labour to keep at it and thats one reason why I do not want to see them back in government.

          • the viceroy’s gin

            False. You Camerluvvie socialists are in favor of increased taxes and spending, as you’ve clearly shown the past 3 years, and now you’re hysterically shrieking to build unneeded trains, as a massive new spending program.

            Your statements are false. You are a LibLabCon socialist.

          • Denis_Cooper

            Then we should start with cuts in business taxes where they will do most good.

    • Nicholas chuzzlewit

      In my view, undoubtedly yes. What you are recommending makes sound strategic sense. Unfortunately, from a politician’s perspective such measures are also ‘invisible’ to the naked eye of Joe Public hence the desire to support ‘visible’ projects like HS2. I believe that any investment, like HS2, must generate more income than it cost to make said investment in the first place. I suspect that some very learned people have attempted to make that determination in the case of HS2. With all the countless variables involved however, I cannot see how anybody could possibly reach a conclusion which even on ‘the balance of probabilities’ (50.1%) could be deemed positive for HS2.

  • dalai guevara

    Your image caption: “without it” is of course the answer.
    When you facilitate a centre that is not properly braced against the market forces, the migration, the demand that will hit it, then the picture above quite aptly illustrates the outcome.

    And come on, we can all see how that is happening. Workers are carted in, their transport has now been subsidised for years to guarantee the wellbeing of the dwellers in its centre. Yet these central denizens are increasingly not the indigenous.

    You just cannot win: to grow or not to grow, both desires will suffer a shock in a centralist outlook. Decentralisation is the socio-economic answer.

    • Fergus Pickering

      But the world and his wife wants to liver in London (not me however) and nobody wants to live in Hull execpt Philip Larkin and he dead.

      • In2minds

        Don’t be parochial, London is full of people just like you!

      • HookesLaw

        There is no reason why people should not want to live in Hull and if rail links and other links to the north are good enough and if Hull becomes a place people would like to go to then more might.

        Its up to Hull (and of course places like it) to sell itself. It already has a good motorway link from the South.

        Of course successive governments have spent billions on efforts to regenerate the North. All to often northerners (I am a Northerner) seem ungrateful.

        • Alexsandr

          They should stop trying. Just cut taxes and regulation and I am sure it will regenerate itself just fine.

          • HookesLaw

            Governments should do and interfere as little as possible.
            One of its duties is to ensure adequate infrastructure. Sadly for you it cannot get away from that.
            This involved looking ahead.
            I can see where this would be an alien concept for you. But stretch your mind – try – once built the rail line will be there ‘for ever’ and we have to start sometime.

            • the viceroy’s gin

              Except you Camerloonian socialists don’t bother trying to establish what is “adequate”, you just assert it, which is why this HS2 nonsense is being pilloried, and why your guy Dave’s head is headed for a spike in 18 months.

      • The Laughing Cavalier

        and MiLord Prescott but he’s an idiot.

  • keith

    hookeslaw will be on shortly telling you your an ignorant little Englander for not supporting the waste of £50 billion on a vanity railway project whose benefits change to suit what ever arguments they want. i am still waiting for hooky to deny spending the £50 billion on giving houses to people living in bed and breakfast accommodation with their families because of the shortage of council housing would not be a better way to spend the money, but then again anyone who disagrees with him is a nutjob or ignorant, so i await his usual diatribe without any cohesive reasoning as is the norm

    • Fergus Pickering

      Nothingn like getting in your retaliation first, but it’s not much good, is it. You couldn’t punch the skin off a rice pudding.

      • keith

        rice pudding ? don’t people deserve to live in houses or are train sidings with tents in better for them

      • HookesLaw

        And on the main subject, the man Mr Grey relies upon for his emotive headline, Professor Tomaney, is not an ‘infrastructure expert’.
        He is a professor of urban planning (gawd save us from all of those).
        His research ‘has been principally concerned with development of cities and regions as socioeconomic, political and cultural
        His work ‘has focused especially on questions of the governance of local and regional economies, in which questions of spatial planning are central. John’s work contributes to debates about the relational and territorial conceptions of place and space’
        (says his profile).

        Some ‘infrastructure expert’ eh?

        • the viceroy’s gin

          …yes, except that you Camerluvvie socialists have the infrastructure nous of a stalk of celery, and have no business attacking even the stalk’s qualifications, let alone this Tomaney fellow’s.

          • Daniel Maris

            Even by your own v. low standards that was an extremely tedious and pointless post.

            • the viceroy’s gin

              …and speaking of those with the intelligence of a stalk of celery…

    • dalai guevara

      No need to wait, Keith.
      Did Manchester suffer when rail times plummeted to 2h09min from Euston?
      Less than 20 years ago, less than 2,000 (!) dwellers lived in that centre.
      What then happened was…

    • Russell

      Shifting hundreds of thousands of benefit dependent people from expensive B&B accomodation (paid for by the private sector employee taxpayers) into £50billion’s worth of social housing (paid for by the private sector employee taxpayers) where they will pay no rent as this is paid for by the private sector employee taxpayers is not really good value for the people who pay for everything….the taxpayers working in the private sector and the private companies.

      • keith

        so we leave them in bed and breakfast were the life’s of their children are a garden of eden nice thought and you seem to think that none of these people want to work and improve their lives, as a tax payer i think i would feel better giving people a better chance with improving their lives than more expensive first class travel that the average taxpayer probably wont be able to afford to travel on anyway

        • HookesLaw

          ‘We leave them in’ … in other words the taxpayer pays for them.
          You are not interested in social housing where tenants pay a rent.
          You want taxpayer funded homes for benefit claimants.

          In any event housing is not mutually exclusive to rail and other transport.

        • Andy

          No we send them to live in Burnley where a terrace house can be had for £10000. There are loads boarded up.

      • HookesLaw

        I’m surprised you replied on that since I could not figure out what jhe was on about.
        The intention is not to spend 50 billion, the overly massive contingency is there to cover the very politikingly inspired disruption Mr Gray typifies. The cost to build should work out at £2 billion a year.

        Evidence of costs ought to be widespread there are enough miles of lines out there in the world.

        Come on Mr Russell be fair – lets face it if Cameron was suggesting helicoptering 10 20 or 50 billion over the top of your back yard you would find some reason to complain. You get my drift – the govt does something, anything, you and the usual suspect will find an excuse to complain.

    • HookesLaw

      Waste? Vanity? Your inventtion to justify your bigotry. Beacause if it is not, then most of the rest of the world has been wasing and vaitisoing for all theior worth biuilding thousands of mules of high speed rail.
      But poor little Britain – oh no, we must still live in circa 1950.

      If you spout unthinking rubbish which ignores the evidence of fact in propagating loony toon right wing views, if you act to undermine the main opposition to socialism, then you deserve to be called a nutjob. Rest easy there are a lot of left wing nutjobs to keep you company.

      • keith

        dear oh dear have you checked the blood pressure, left wing lunacy, it typifies all you stand for, everyone should not be heard whilst you are always right,take the pictures of hitler stalin and mao of your wall, its democracy your allowed to disagree, i feel so sorry for you you poor man, you are a man if not i feel sorry for you you poor women what a lonely self deluded world you must live in where anyone who does not march to your tune is a left wing loony, what a sad sad person, but anyone going back over your contributions will be able to see that for themselves

        • HookesLaw

          You are the sad one to be so bereft of english comprehension as to misrepresent what I have said.
          But we must thank you for proving my point about knee jerk prejudice.

          • keith

            ha ha you do make me laugh you little tinker, trying to turn it when i hit the mark just a question is
            support for leaving the EU, left wing
            support for small government, lower taxes, independent nuclear deterrent, selling off the BBC, slashing overseas aid budget and many more if so i must be a left wing loony and all these years i detested Michael Foot and wedgie benn but i am so glad you have educated me, all this time i was wrong, it must be so nice to know that your never wrong like yourself. i bet you have hours of fun standing in front of the mirror arguing with yourself

      • In2minds

        Hurrah! 12.30pm on a sunny day and our first use of the word bigotry. All is well then.

        • HookesLaw

          This site is full of nutjob kneejerk bigotry. Prejudice rules rational argument is consigned to the dungeon. People like Mr Gray see their job to stir it up. He has himself here produced an article of colossal prejudice and irrationality.

          He carefully neglects to quote (or being a simple minded journalist who relies on being spoonfed, maybe he is unaware of) a counter argument to his link to Prof Tomaney.
          That being the work of Professor Peter Hall and Chia-Lin Chen also of the Bartlett School of Planning

          ‘our research totally contradicts the conclusions of our colleague Professor John Tomaney … He quotes other sources suggesting that high-speed rail does not help lagging regions. Our work, based on close analysis of a big primary database, concludes that it definitively does’

          • Denis_Cooper

            Is that the same Professor Tomaney as the one listed here at Newcastle University’s Jean Monnet Centre?


            The one who wanted a euroregional assembly?

            • HookesLaw

              Who knows. Is this relevant? Anyway, its not me relying on the arguments of an EU regionophile. Its Mr Gray.

              • Denis_Cooper

                I realise that.

          • Smithersjones2013

            You are beginning to sound like one of those those meth sozzled tramps who unsolicited harrasses innocent people walking down the street screaming at them:

            “You’re all b*stards”

            Throw away your tin-foil hat and get some treatment for that paranoia. You are not well.

            PS Have you ever considered you might be wrong?

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      …shortly telling you your an ignorant little Englander…
      Spot the obvious mistake.

      • Alexsandr

        you missed ‘ loony toon right wing views’
        methinks he copies these clichés from a spreadsheet given to him by his masters.

        • HookesLaw

          Keep talking amongst yourselves if it keeps you happy and strong in your prejudice.
          Meantime I have elsewhere pointed you to two learned professors who are happy to contradict the silliness of Mr Gray.
          Lets face it if HS2 did not exist you would have to invent it. You need some excuse to froth and foam. And magazines like the Spectator need some sort of stick to beat the govt with as they desperately try to avoid regulation to prevent their excesses.

  • eyebeams

    Put in a proper broadband infrastructure instead.

    • Fergus Pickering

      Why instead, old fruit?

      • HookesLaw

        Exactly my point.

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