MPs were told yesterday that those opposing High Speed Rail are not "Luddites or Nimbys". The House of Commons Transport Committee was hearing evidence from opponents to plans for a high speed rail line from London to Birmingham (HS2).
We at the TaxPayers' Alliance have been against high speed rail from the start and there is more at stake here than a few people's lawns. It's time the Transport Minister, Philip Hammond, took his fingers out of his ears and answered serious concerns about this £32 billion white elephant.
We've told the committee we're worried about some towns and cities ending up with a worse service because of the line, and we've questioned the claims that the line will create jobs. An independent report from Oxera recently vindicated claims that the business case doesn't fairly compare different strategic options.
Lord Wolfson, chief executive of clothing company Next, was one of several business leaders and economists who signed a letter against the plans, which featured on the front page of the Daily Telegraph back in March.
Former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Lawson, also signed. Lord Wolfson said that "it's not in the national interest to spend a huge amount of money on a scheme that is not, in any way, the best investment on capital".
A recent YouGov/TPA poll on spending cuts shows that there is strong support for cancelling funding for the Government's high speed rail plans. 48 per cent supported cutting HS2 against 34 per cent opposed. It isn't just the headline figures that are interesting though. YouGov asked 2,732 British adults for the poll and the more detailed breakdown offers up some home truths for Hammond. 50 per cent of those who intend to vote Conservative supported cutting HS2 against 33 per cent opposed. Women came out overwhelmingly in favour of scrapping the plans: 53 per cent supported cutting HS2 against 24 per cent opposed. Perhaps this female opposition is something to do with Hammond's arrogance in his approach to high speed rail, belittling the opposition instead of having a serious debate and determined to get his new train set.
Politicians like Hammond always seem to want to leave a legacy of some sort, it's often an expensive project that taxpayers inevitably have to bankroll, even better if it's really big or fast or purports to be trail-blazing. It's often dressed up as something that will benefit us all but in reality is often nothing more than a vanity project, a white elephant that we'll all pay for, to satisfy special interests. High speed rail ticks all these boxes. It's a big, fast, shiny, train. Hammond is so determined to get his phallic project approved that women might wonder whether is trying to over-compensate for something.
Unfortunately the people who will eventually become passengers on this train will be overwhelmingly from the top income quintiles, but taxpayers across the country will have to contribute to paying the well over £1,000 for every family in Britain it will cost. At a time when ordinary families are struggling with the rising cost of living and with higher taxes thanks to the VAT hike, the Government shouldn't be about to spend billions of pounds of our money on a rich man's train. Hammond's priorities should be keeping down the cost to taxpayers and looking at simpler and more affordable improvements to our rail network that can cut overcrowding for commuters. This white elephant is the last thing taxpayers need.