High Speed Rail Criticised By Influential Think Tank

PRESS ASSOCIATION -- The Government's proposed £32 billion HS2 high-speed rail project is "economically flawed", according to a new report.

The scheme is a "political vanity project" and based on "bogus assumptions", said the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA).

The cost of the project will require a contribution of £1,000 per income tax payer and is not commercially viable, the think-tank's report added.

HS2, which is at the heart of the Government's transport strategy, involves a new high-speed line through beauty spots in Tory heartlands from London to Birmingham, to be completed by around 2026. There are also plans for a Y-shaped extension to Manchester and Leeds, and possibly further north, to be completed around 2032/33.

The IEA report said estimates made by the Government of demand on the route are very optimistic and the first five miles of the route, from Euston in London to Old Oak Common, will add almost 25% (around £4 billion) to the cost of the first phase but deliver negligible time savings.

It said significant environmental and social costs are not included in the assessment of the economic case, with several areas likely to be affected by planning blight. And claims that HS2 will bridge the north-south divide and bring regeneration should be treated with scepticism as the evidence is largely speculative, it added.

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. 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."

Professor David Begg, director of the Campaign for High-Speed Rail, said: "I am hugely disappointed and shocked by the IEA's analysis. This is a weak regurgitation of weak research carried out by the Taxpayers' Alliance (TPA) in February, which has not stood up to public or industry scrutiny since. Just like them, the IEA declare that the scheme will cost £1,000 per taxpayer. This is grossly disingenuous, as it fails to account for fare revenues, private investment and generated taxation that will offset the public investment."

Prof Begg went on: "The IEA have completely failed to grasp the wider benefits of the high-speed rail project, which will create jobs, boost investment and spread the economic wealth of this country to places outside of the TPA heartlands 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."