It's full steam ahead for HS2! But at a cost of £32.7 over 21 years, where are the benefits for the West Country? - La Treizième Étoile: A blog on EU politics
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It's full steam ahead for HS2! But at a cost of £32.7 over 21 years, where are the benefits for the West Country?

Saturday, 14 January 2012
It was one of the Government’s worst kept secrets, and a project to which a recent poll shows nearly two thirds of population are opposed or in favour of better spending the cash, yet it is happening.

HS2, the proposed high-speed line connecting London to Birmingham continuing on to Manchester and Leeds was officially given the green light this week and is to go ahead at a cost of at least £32.7 billion.

Announcing the decision in the House of Commons, the transport secretary, Justine Greening, said the HS2 high-speed rail scheme would build critical infrastructure, providing vital capacity and faster journeys on trains carrying up to 1,100 passengers each. The aim is for the network to be running by 2026 and completed by 2033 (click to enlarge the proposed network map displayed above).

But the South West is hardly going to be benefit. The go-ahead for the ambitious scheme, announced in Parliament yesterday, dashed hopes of a direct rail link between the South West and Heathrow Airport.

While the Great Western Mainline will connect to the HS2 network at a proposed new interchange at Old Oak Common in West London, it is unlikely this would become the preferred route to the North West from Bristol (currently via Birmingham New Street).

When asked at Westminster about benefits for passengers on the Great Western line, Ms Greening said: “This is not just about high-speed rail, but about taking pressure off existing lines,she said. “For people from the South West, on the Great Western line, this means they will be able to continue on to HS2 at Old Oak Common. The benefits of HS2 will be felt far more broadly than just in the cities with direct services.

But William Dartmouth, the UKIP MEP for the South West has spoken out in opposition to the scheme: “the whole project is a sop to the big parties and the marginal seats in the West Midlands. They have either forgotten, or don't care about the needs of people in the South West,” he said.

This project will cost taxpayers in the South West almost £110m and will have absolutely no benefits whatsoever for local people”.

UKIP and other opponents of the high speed rail line plans are already plotting to stand against sitting Conservative MPs at the next election in some of the party’s safest seats. Since the line would run through some of the UK’s glorious green countryside, there are potentially many Conservatives under threat – including of course the current Minister for European Affairs, David Liddington (Aylesbury).

My two cents: I’m not against the expansion of high-speed rail in the UK. In fact, it is long overdue. But rather than spending BILLIONS of Pounds shaving extra minutes off the already-fast journey time from Birmingham to London (currently operated by the high-speed 200km/h Virgin Pendolinos), the money could be far better put to use.
For example, First Great Western services, already under threat due to disputes over the franchise agreement, could be greatly improved at a far quicker pace by using the money to fund the electrification of the line between Bristol and London. The services connecting Cornwall to the rest of the country are under threat and few and far between compared to other services that happen to connect to London – and since the closure of Plymouth Airport and the threatened existence of Newquay Airport have become more and more vital.


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