A new report from the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) casts doubt on the government’s proposed High Speed 2 (HS2) plan, as it risks “misleading the public” with claims of prospective growth and development in the North of England.
The report, conducted by Dr Richard Wellings, researches past experiences with high speed rail in areas such as East Kent and Doncaster, where it found the results of high-speed rail to be unfavourable. For example, since the introduction of high-speed services, East Kent’s employment rate has performed much worse than the rest of the South East and the UK. From 2010-2013 the average employment rate was 5 percentage points lower than during the pre-high-speed period examined, compared with falls in the South East of 2.1 percentage points and nationally at 1.8 percentage points.
The report’s findings on high-speed rail in Doncaster are also noteworthy, as only “23% of Doncaster’s working age residents are qualified to NVQ level 4 or above, compared with a national figure of 35%”; concluding that a combination of low skills and poor educational standards have prevented Doncaster from capitalising on the improved rail link, which has reduced the demand for its services.
The study also suggests that a combination of technological advances and changes in business practices or lifestyle may further reduce the effectiveness of HS2 in the future. According to the report, improvements in IT technology may reduce the necessity for lengthy trips; meaning that there may be less need to travel long distances by the time of HS2’s completion.
The IEA’s report presents further scepticism over the widely criticised infrastructure project from the Coalition. An Observer poll in March 2014 found that only 36% of those surveyed support the government’s rail plan, and that more people back the idea of improving rail links between northern cities than support the desired £50bn north-south project which will link London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.
On the matter, Dr Richard Wellings said: “The failure of High Speed 1 to achieve its aim of transforming East Kent raises serious questions about the ability of HS2 to ‘rebalance’ the UK economy. The scale of the challenge is huge compared to a relatively small area in the South-East, and many of the northern cities on the route experience more severe social and economic problems.
“Given that the government’s own cost-benefit analysis suggested the project is poor value for money, policymakers should instead focus on improving infrastructure linking northern cities to each other, rather than to London. This would deliver much greater economic benefits.”