HS2: Directors rail against ‘grand folly’

Moving from current high speed trains to the HS2 is quickly losing support as the projected cost increases. Picture: PA
Moving from current high speed trains to the HS2 is quickly losing support as the projected cost increases. Picture: PA
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The Institute of Directors has joined those calling for HS2 to be scrapped, branding the £50 billion high-speed rail project “a grand folly”.

A survey of IoD members found that only 27 per cent feel HS2 represents good value for money, and 70 per cent say the scheme will have no impact on the productivity of their business.

The survey also showed that there was little enthusiasm for the project even in the regions where the benefits are supposed to be strongest.

In August 2011, a survey of IoD members found 54 per cent rated HS2 important to their business. This figure has now fallen to 41 per cent, with the IoD saying that this illustrated “how businesses see high-speed rail as a lower priority than it was two years ago”.

The IoD scepticism over the scheme, which will see a first London to Birmingham phase completed around 2026, follows a report last week by the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA) which said the cost of HS2 could be as high as £80 billion.

There were also reports that the Treasury was working on a figure as high as £73bn for the project which cuts through Tory heartlands in the Chilterns, with a Y-shaped scheme due to take the line to north-east and north-west England around 2032-33 .

After the IEA report, former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling came out strongly against the project. Others who have expressed reservations have included former Labour industry secretary Lord Mandelson.

The IoD said that a central part of the government’s current economic case for HS2 was that time spent on a train is unproductive. But the IoD said its research showed that this assumption was “wildly inaccurate”, as only 6 per cent of directors say they never work on a train.

Forty-eight per cent of members say they spend at least half of the journey working, 26 per cent work for between a quarter and half the time, and 21 per cent up to a quarter.

Commenting on the research, IoD director-general Simon Walker said: “Businesses up and down the country know value for money when they see it, and our research shows that they don’t see it in the government’s case for HS2.

“Some of the specific claims that the government has used to support its economic case for the project have been challenged by our members, who by and large do not feel that their business will benefit.

“We recognise some of our members are in favour of this project, and there is a plurality of opinion.

“But, overall, there appears to be little enthusiasm among IoD members, not even in the regions where the benefits are supposed to be strongest.

“Indeed, our research shows that almost every region expects London to benefit the most.

“Investment in the west and east coast main lines combined with a variety of other infrastructure projects would be a far more sensible option,” he said.