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HS2: are we building a Chinese ghost city?

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

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

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?