Claudia Cazalet explores some of the controversies surrounding the construction of HS2.
Those in favour of the High Speed Rail link in the UK will argue that the economic benefit will be considerable, particularly in the midlands and the North on England. Nick Clegg had described it as “the engine of growth”. Over the next 30 years, HS2 will cost £32 billion to build but will provide an estimated £34.7 billion of economic benefits whilst also generating another £27 billion in fares from customers using the service. The West Midlands will gain most in absolute terms with a rise of £1.5bn-£3.1bn in output in 2037.
However, the cost of the project continues to rise and have been increasingly criticized due to the imposition of contemporary austerity cuts in the UK. Funds that are now directed towards the HS2 project could have been used to benefit other areas of the welfare state that are suffering under the austerity cuts. The Times journalist, Matt Ridley, has cynically noted that for the cost of HS2 you could fix the nation’s potholes, upgrade the existing West Coast Main Line, fix other rail bottlenecks, turn busy A-roads into dual carriageways, build a third runway at Heathrow, invest £2bn in cycle networks and provide superfast broadband across the country. The Public Accounts Committee is particularly alarmed by the rising cost of the project.
The project has also been criticized, as it will cause many to be relocated, increase noise pollution, and threaten traditional ways of life. Across the entire line more than 600 homes will be bulldozed and another 340 homes will be cut off from their wider neighbourhood. Infrastructure supporting the line will be built on 250 acres of green belt land. Additionally, the line will slice through sites of special scientific interest. Historic houses in Buckinghamshire and Warwickshire will be demolished or blighted by the new line, which many campaigners have highlighted as a key problem. However, HS2 has already adapted the line to reduce the number of hoses affected and 18% of the rail link will be enclosed in a tunnel. Additionally, the number of properties that may experience a noticeable increase in noise on the phase 1 route has been reduced since consultation by a third from 4,700 to around 3,100.
Despite claims that HS2 will ruin the environment, many claim that instead it will benefit the environment. The Coalition argued that the rail link would reduce a significant number of air and road trips as people will opt more for the rail service. “High speed rail is the most efficient way of transporting people between cities,” claimed a spokeswoman for the Department for Transport. “It requires fewer stops, meaning less energy is expended on repeatedly braking and accelerating.” Additionally, it has been claimed that eventually the government will enhance its plan to create a corridor of woodland to mask the line that will, in time, foster wildlife as opposed to damaging it. However, rail expert Christian Wolmar says the climate change case for HS2 has virtually disappeared. Pressure group, HS2 Action Alliance criticise the project, claiming HS2’s 250mph trains will use 50% more energy than the Eurostar trains and this increased expenditure of energy combined with the inevitable growth in commutes between the North and South, will result in increased emissions in the future, which may then lead to increased environmental degradation.