HS2 - an engineering challenge or vital social and economic solution?

Supporters of the High Speed 2 project came out fighting this week with a new report “Great Britain: connected or not?” which details the dangers to the UK economy and society of abandoning the £42bn mega-project. 

It makes some pretty compelling claims clearly designed to remind pre-party conference season politicians of their long standing cross party commitment to the project and the vital need to hold this together even if the political going gets tough.

It is convincing stuff.  Failure to deliver the project would see vast amounts of transport investment lost from the coffers, would halt the development of the nation’s rail industry and set back the vital connectivity 

The impact of not spending the money would be to stagnate the economy, it adds, both through loss of connectivity and capacity but also through loss of market confidence in our ability to deliver such large and nationally important schemes.

All in all, despite the monumental challenge of pushing this project through the parliamentary process before April 2015, the message to politicians is clear – get on with it now or lose out globally.

They would say that wouldn’t they? Vested interest is in abundance.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge supporter of the project. I agree that we need to think big and move away from the constant sticking plaster approach to our nationally important infrastructure. I agree that we need to press forward against conservative nature and make a commitment to our future generations.

But I also know that we have to take the public with us. 

And my fear right now is that, for too many and on all sides of the debate, this is seen too much as an engineering project and too little as a an investment and catalyst for social change.

My hope is that Lord Deighton’s HS2 Taskforce will start the process of bringing these new social benefit arguments into play. 

Arguments that accentuate the regional transport value of the project; arguments that demonstrate the huge value that cities and towns along and adjacent to the route will bring; arguments that show how investment on this scale will boost attractiveness beyond London and lever in jobs and growth across the nation.

High speed rail is of course a fantastic opportunity for the infrastructure professions. But more importantly it is an even bigger opportunity for the British society and economy.

Failure to appreciate this will do more than the whim of any politician to kill this vital project.


Antony Oliver is the editor of Infrastructure Intelligence

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