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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Why Labour's rise could threaten Nicola Sturgeon's independence dream

As the First Minister shelves plans for a second vote, does she join the list of politicians who bet on an anti-Brexit dividend that failed to materialise?

The nights are getting longer, and so are generations. The independence referendum sequel will happen after, not before the Brexit process is complete, Nicola Sturgeon announced yesterday.

It means that Scottish Remainers will not have the opportunity to seamlessly move from being part of a United Kingdom in the European Union to an independent Scotland in the European Union. Because of the ongoing drama surrounding Theresa May, we've lost sight of what a bad night the SNP had on 8 June. Not just because they lost 21 of the 56 seats they were defending, including that of their leader in Westminster, Angus Robertson, and their former leader, Alex Salmond. They also have no truly safe seats left – having gone from the average SNP MP sitting on a majority of more than 10,000 to an average of just 2,521.

As Sturgeon conceded in her statement, there is an element of referendum fatigue in Scotland, which contributed to the loss. Does she now join the list of politicians – Tim Farron being one, and Owen Smith the other – who bet on an anti-Brexit dividend that failed to materialise?

I'm not so sure. Of all the shocks on election night, what happened to the SNP was in many ways the least surprising and most long-advertised. We knew from the 2016 Holyrood elections – before the SNP had committed to a referendum by March 2019 – that No voters were getting better at voting tactically to defeat the SNP, which was helping all the Unionist parties outperform their vote share. We saw that in the local elections earlier this year, too. We knew, too, that the biggest beneficiaries of that shift were the Scottish Conservatives.

So in many ways, what happened at the election was part of a bigger trend that Sturgeon was betting on a wave of anger at the Brexit vote. If we get a bad Brexit deal, or worse, no deal at all, then it may turn out that Sturgeon's problem was simply that this election came a little too early.

The bigger problem for the Yes side isn't what happened to the SNP's MPs – they can undo that with a strong showing at the Holyrood elections in 2021 or at Westminster in 2022. The big problem is what happened to the Labour Party across the United Kingdom.

One of Better Together's big advantages in 2014 is that, regardless of whether you voted for the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats or the Labour Party, if you believed the polls, you had a pretty reasonable expectation that your type of politics would be represented in the government of Britain sometime soon.

For the last two years, the polls, local elections and by-elections have all suggested that the only people in Scotland who could have that expectation were Conservatives. Bluntly: the day after the local elections, Labour and the Liberal Democrats looked to be decades from power, and the best way to get a centre-left government looked to be a Yes vote. The day after the general election, both parties could hope to be in government within six months.

As Tommy Sheppard, the SNP MP for Edinburgh East, observed in a smart column for the Herald after the election, one of the reasons why the SNP lost votes was that Corbyn's manifesto took some of the optimistic vote that they gobbled up in 2014 and 2015.

And while Brexit may yet sour enough to make Nicola Sturgeon's second referendum more appealing on that ground, the transformation in Labour's position over the course of the election campaign is a much bigger problem for the SNP.

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

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