HS2: Darling backtracks on £50bn rail link he approved
Former Chancellor now says huge cost of high-speed north-south link could be better spent
ALISTAIR DARLING now opposes the High Speed 2 rail link because of its soaring costs, he reveals in The Times today.
Despite approving the first stage of the new 225mph rail link from London to Birmingham in 2009 when he was Chancellor in Gordon Brown’s Labour government, Darling writes: “There are better ways to spend £50bn than on one line.”
The Treasury believes the final cost could top £70bn, he adds.
He says the government should instead put the money into upgrading existing train lines in the rest of the country, particularly the East Coast mainline. He also suggests more should be spent on improving links between cities outside London.
He cites the successful West Coast upgrade achieved through “tried and tested technology” as an example of the sort of smaller infrastructure project that will not be possible if HS2 goes ahead.
Darling says it is “foolish” to spend the money on a single project when the Department for Transport spends only £9 billion a year on all long-term investment projects combined, including roads, rail and other public transport.
“Politicians are always excited by ‘visionary’ schemes. One thing I have learned is that transport, rather like banking, is at its best when it is boring,” he writes. “The case for HS2 was just about stateable in 2010. I don’t believe it is today.”
Responding to the argument that it will reduce the length of train journeys, Darling responded: “Certainly it’s handy to cut the journey time between Birmingham and London by half an hour. But at what cost?” He claims the resulting economic benefits are “highly contentious” and overstated. ·