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HS2: the grenade that must not be chucked

Binyamin Ali

People say no news is good news. What HS2 wouldn’t give for even a few weeks of no news.

Following the procurement scandals that dogged the client last year, the Department for Transport has this week been forced into defending the appointment of Margaret Thatcher’s former private secretary to a complaints-handling role on the project.

MPs have said Sir Mark Worthington lacks the experience required for the position.

And as Theresa May’s government has come under further attack during the party conference season, HS2 has become a political grenade for those from within her own party.

Both Andrea Leadsom and Boris Johnson have called for the scheme to be halted, as both start laying the groundwork in anticipation of a potential general election / leadership challenge.

If certain politicians believe building a £55.7bn high-speed railway up the spine of the UK was a crazy idea to begin with, then what would halting it now amount to?

Given that £4.1bn has been spent on the project to date, it would be hard to sell this as a sensible suggestion. Conservative yes, but clever? Probably not.

This is not to say the proposed rail link is without its flaws.

As HS2 Ltd approaches its 10th birthday, CN has looked back at the challenges the project has faced to date; it makes for difficult reading.

From ballooning costs, a conflict-of-interest scandal and unauthorised redundancy payments, the scheme already has a negative legacy and the main construction work hasn’t even started yet.

But report after report from both government and HS2 have sought to convey the wider economic benefits, for both the regions involved and the rest of the country.

Experts can debate the validly of these claims until the cows come home, but we won’t really know how accurate the forecasts are until the line is actually built and integrated into existing services.

But having come this far, the guaranteed colossal waste and serious repercussions of cancelling HS2 surely outweigh the pitfalls of all but the most gloomy – and unlikely – predictions for how it will turn out.

Bottom line: it is in the nation’s interest for HS2 to succeed.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Classic gambler's fallacy, aka 'throwing bad money after good'.

    If the project can be justified on its own merits, then it's worth continuing with it regardless of how much money has already been spent.

    If it doesn't stack up, then it should be scrapped regardless of how much money has already been spent.

    It's the kind of wooly thinking displayed in this article that sits behind any number of high-profile projects that have ended up delayed, overbudget, and ultimately failing to deliver the promised outcomes.

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