Recent protests on the streets of Leamington Spa have drawn student attention to the train lines being built through the Warwickshire countryside. Politicians have hidden behind the façade that the HS2 rail link will boost the UK economy and serve public interest, but this is far from the truth. While it is visibly damaging our landscape, HS2 is also rupturing the social and economic structure of our society.
The new high-speed rail link between London and the North of England will not lead to the regeneration of Northern cities, as many politicians have claimed. In fact, Northern cities are being pulled into the ‘South East labour market’ under the guise of improving rail links through HS2. However, the rail line is more likely to have an irreversible negative impact on the North. Taking countries such as France, Spain, and South Korea as precedents, high speed rail links hinder deprived regions, whilst boosting the economy of already thriving ones.
History also acts as my ally on this point. From the horse and cart, to the invention of the steam engine, transport advancements nearly always lead to a greater concentration of wealth in already thriving cities, instead of improving the economic conditions of deprived ones. London will be able to suck even more wealth into its metropolitan fabric and is rumoured to be set to reap 40% of the financial benefits from HS2. Upgrading existing rail routes and working on smaller scale local projects would be more beneficial to rail links and commuters throughout the UK.
From the horse and cart, to the invention of the steam engine, transport advancements nearly always lead to a greater concentration of wealth in already thriving cities, instead of improving the economic conditions of deprived ones
While the aim of HS2 may have initially been to boost the economy, it is now only damaging it further. Money would be better spent improving pre-existing transport between Northern cities and redressing the four-to-one regional imbalance in transport spending between the South and the North of England. Alternatively, the £106 billion expenditure on HS2 (so far), could be redirected to help the businesses whose earnings have been ravaged by Covid-19.
The government’s argument that HS2 will increase speed of work and decrease the length of a working day is also nonsensical, considering that most office workers in London now work fully, or at least partially, from home. With London based businesses showing a commitment to remote working, it is questionable whether the demand for rail services from London to the North will exist by the time HS2 is completed. During the current global crisis, it seems immoral to be misappropriating public funds on a train link which will not necessarily be in large demand by the time it is completed.
It has also been speculated that the HS2 may never be built further than Birmingham. The irony of this failure is that, without rail links to Manchester and Leeds, the purpose of HS2 will be defeated. Even if it does make it to Birmingham, HS2 will not use Birmingham’s two existing rail stations Instead, two new stations outside the city will have to be constructed.
In a time when austerity is rife, and people’s jobs and pensions are under threat, it seems like a betrayal by the government to continue to invest our money into a vanity project which will, ultimately, save us twenty-minutes on our trips to London. This money could be redirected towards other infrastructural investments such as the regeneration of hospitals. As young adults who will be left to pay the reparational damage from this global pandemic, would we rather have lives or train links to show for our action (or lack thereof ) during these times?
Historical houses in Warwickshire are due to be demolished and train tracks will leave scars through major spots of natural beauty in the Chilterns and Midlands
The environmental and historical cost of HS2 is also unjustifiable. Historical houses in Warwickshire are due to be demolished and train tracks will leave scars through major spots of natural beauty in the Chilterns and Midlands. Nineteen ancient woodlands and twelve highly protected areas for conservation will be damaged; HS2 will create a barrier to the action we need to take to maintain natural habitats. As students, we should be taking responsibility for the landscapes we will be living in for the rest of our lives. HS2 is also unlikely to reduce carbon emissions. The prediction of how many commuters would switch to train as their main mode of transport after HS2’s construction was exaggerated. In reality, the HS2 will be reliant on transfers from preexisting rail links which will continue to emit a significant amount of carbon.
As students, we should all be aware of the eminent social, environmental, and economic effects of HS2. Progress should be suspended and reviewed by Parliament before it causes irrevocable damage throughout Warwickshire.