HS2: are we building a Chinese ghost city?

The arguments for HS2 are getting left behind by new technology.

The planned high speed rail project to link London to Birmingham from 2026 with extensions to Manchester and Leeds via Sheffield due to be finished by 2032 has hit the headlines in the UK once more.

The Institute of Directors (IoD), a business lobby group, has beseeched the government to quit high-speed rail project which has polarised the population. An IoD survey of its members showed that HS2 is not at all popular with UK businesses with the The IoD's director general, Simon Walker, describing the project as "one grand folly".

Not the least of peoples concerns over the project is the £42.6bn price tag the government has attached to it, while the Institute of Economic Affairs has predicted the final cost could rise to more than £80bn (something I’m inclined to agree with when it comes to governmental spending predictions).

One of Mr Walker’s more astute criticisms is that the cost-benefit analysis was conducted at a time when a newspaper was a more common sight on the train than a laptop, when, unless you could carry a filing cabinet on your back, the train was as far removed from your office as the garden shed.

This is no longer the case. Despite some backward looking big firms that should know better we are moving to a world where the office is whereever there is wi-fi and the commute is just another part of the working day, along with the business lunch and the breakfast briefing.

Walker’s comments do raise the question that if things have changed to such an extent (and it seems still are changing as this the pro-HS2 vote is down 13pp from a similar survey conducted in August 2011) where will we be in 2032 when these long-term projects are finally completed?

Are we investing in something that, like the eerie Chinese ghost cities, will stand empty and unused once the final payment has been made, as the march of progress moves us faster than the HS2’s paltry 300km/h?

An elephant marking the route of HS2. Photograph: Getty Images

Billy Bambrough writes for Retail Banker International at VRL financial news.
 

Photo: Getty
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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.