High-speed rail: Birmingham says no

Some fascinating straws in the wind from Birmingham, proposed destination of the Government’s £17 billion high-speed supertrain.

If anywhere was going to be in favour of HS2, it should surely be Brum – which stands to see its London service speeded up the most (by a claimed 35 minutes.) The council and various local business groups have been dutifully campaigning for the albatross.

But in a survey by the Birmingham Post, two-thirds of those who responded opposed the new line and 70% said other transport investment should be a higher priority. Fifty-five per cent also disputed the Government’s claim that high-speed rail would be good for the local economy.

The survey doesn’t appear to have been a representative opinion poll, so it really is only a straw in the wind – but it is still interesting that the pro-HS2 camp has been unable to mobilise supporters in what should be the scheme’s heartland.

Even more interestingly, the Post itself has written a leader saying that the Government’s case for HS2 has “run out of steam” and adding that Whitehall’s forecasts of passenger numbers and projected economic benefits “appear to be inflated.”

That is absolutely right. HS2 could, in fact, substantially damage existing plans for the regeneration of Birmingham’s Eastside. The centrepiece of the scheme, a new £123 million university campus on which £30 million has already been spent, was scrapped after the Government said that HS2 needed the site. A new scheme, for a campus only just over half the size, has now been drawn up – and the university is still waiting for its £30 million back. The new, shrunken campus is to go on a site planned for a new “vertical theme park” – which has in turn also been scrapped.

Inflated, too, has been the Government’s claim of the journey time saving of high-speed rail. The figure they quote for the fastest time on the existing line – 1 hour and 24 minutes – is wrong. The fastest train at present does it in 1 hour 12 minutes, so the saving is 23 minutes, not 35 – and even less once you factor in that HS2’s Brum terminus is further away from the city centre than New Street, the existing stop.

It simply won’t do for the Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond, to go on claiming that all HS2’s opponents are “Nimbies.” The fact is that the case for HS2 is in deep intellectual trouble.

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