A year ago today, Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave HS2 the green light. At the same time Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said “we needed all the facts to decide the way forward with HS2.” It is fair to say the world has changed a great deal in the last year, and the facts surrounding HS2 have altered dramatically. If the government needed all the facts a year ago to decide the way forward with HS2, surely the same remains true, and the impacts of the pandemic on transport demands must be factored in.
The government needs to stop and rethink the entire project, but it needs to do it openly and honestly.
The government’s justifications for the project change every time a justification is debunked.
First it was high-speed interconnectivity with a European rail network, then it was speed between London and the north, then capacity, then northern growth, now it is “part of a long-term infrastructure plan serving future needs.” But what are those future needs and do the identified “needs” reflect how the pandemic has changed working and travel patterns?
Government needs to stop and rethink HS2. It needs to ask itself what the point of the project is, whether it is needed in the post-pandemic world, and whether it is worth the cost, both financial and environmental.
As Professor Dieter Helm succinctly put it in September 2019 “What is the question or questions to which HS2 is supposed to be an answer? As with a number of big and long-term projects, as one rationale collapses another is grasped in the attempt to justify doing something, rather than work out whether it is a good idea.”