Full steam ahead for HS2

**On asking fellow students what they knew about the recent HS2 announcements, the most common response was “what’s the HS2?” **True, the estimated completion date of 2026 for ‘Phase One’ may be too far-flung to start losing sleep over. But only at the bottom of Gibbet Hill Road will you find a sign forewarning the arrival of HS2, making it a pressing reality for locals at least.

“We can’t keep turning a blind eye to the north-south divide in our economy. That is what this high-speed project is all about,” MPs preach in justification. Reports back them up. KPMG analysis has estimated growth in workplace employment of 22,000 and gross value added of £1.5bn in 2026 for the West Midlands metropolitan area alone, representing an average wage increase of £300 per worker per annum. At the core of these figures is the smoother flow of human capital, allowing a more efficient allocation of labour to work at a lower cost in terms of time. For example, London-Birmingham travel will be cut from one hour twenty four minutes to forty nine minutes.

Impressive, but it seems that in these figures the divide is rooted; protestors, who will lose valuable tranquility or even their homes, cannot comprehend the rationale of a trivial half an hour or so. The treasury, on the other hand, naturally considers the bigger, macroeconomic picture. Again taking London-Birmingham as an example, thirty five minutes each way, per worker, for forty nine weeks of the year produces a mouth-watering sum when converted to monetary terms and, therefore, GDP.

Protest groups have other ideas. They claim to have found what they believe to be crucial flaws in government calculations in the cost-benefit analysis for the project. Vital assumptions include labour inactivity during travel and an average passenger income of £70,000.
While it may not be necessary to be an economist in order to nullify the first assumption on the grounds of technological progress (smartphones, iPads), the second requires more attention. With an average wage in Britain of approximately £27,000, this estimate is certainly not representative of the country. It has, therefore, been argued that HS2’s benefits apply only to the rich, whereas the £32bn bill is footed by all taxpayers, irrespective of income. What’s more, the viability of the plans relies on fare prices surging at least twenty per cent above inflation. The monetary figures are certainly not easy to digest, particularly amid an era of austerity, they say.

“If our predecessors hadn’t decided to build the railways in the Victorian times, or the motorways in the middle part of the 20th Century, then we wouldn’t have those things today”. While George Osborne’s argument for the HS2 may seem as relevant as comparing a supercar to the Ford Model T, it does hold some nous. Whether HS2 connects or merely scars Britain’s landscape can only be fully appreciated in hindsight. Until then, those affected by HS2 will sleep soundly while they can.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.