Will HS2 survive the spending review?

The future of the proposed HS2 high-speed rail line is on the line as Treasury secretary Liz Truss hints at a spending review.


Truss is hunting white elephants
(Image credit: 2019 Getty Images)

The proposed HS2 high-speed rail line is "hanging by a thread", says Simon Jenkins inThe Guardian. Treasury secretary Liz Truss has reportedly made it a candidate for autumn's public spending review, declaring her determination to "junkthe white elephants".

The estimated costs of HS2 have risen from £56bn to more than £100bn. So far, £4bn has been spent on "preparatory work" including £600m on a "consultancy gravy train". Cancellation would not only release land for development, it would also enable Truss to "press go on HS3", the alternative Northern Powerhouse rail project, producing "instant ecstasy" among leaders of northerncity councils.

Is that so, says Michael Savage in The Observer.Henri Murison of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, a think tank, said that ditching HS2 would "send a very negative message" and could leave the Tories "in opposition for decades". And scrapping it is "far from straightforward": more than 900 properties on the proposed route have already been bought at a cost of £600m. A more likely outcome is that the section north of Birmingham, due to open in 2026, will be cancelled.

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If that happens, it will make a "mockery of the notion that it will help bridge the north-south divide", says Liam Halligan in The Daily Telegraph. Moreover, trains on the London to Birmingham route are only 70% full at peak times. Back in 2010, the "main rationale" for HS2 was speed, but Wi-Fi on trains weakens the case for shaving an hour or so off journey times.

The priority should be channelling "serious cash" into local commuter services, wherever they are. "Since 2008, UK rail fares have risen twice as fast as earnings, yet overcrowding is at record levels," cancellations are spiralling and passengers' dissatisfaction is "at a ten-year-high." HS2 is a costly "vanity project" and should be axed.

Emily Hohler

Emily has worked as a journalist for more than thirty years and was formerly Assistant Editor of MoneyWeek, which she helped launch in 2000. Prior to this, she was Deputy Features Editor of The Times and a Commissioning Editor for The Independent on Sunday and The Daily Telegraph. She has written for most of the national newspapers including The Times, the Daily and Sunday Telegraph, The Evening Standard and The Daily Mail, She interviewed celebrities weekly for The Sunday Telegraph and wrote a regular column for The Evening Standard. As Political Editor of MoneyWeek, Emily has covered subjects from Brexit to the Gaza war.

Aside from her writing, Emily trained as Nutritional Therapist following her son's diagnosis with Type 1 diabetes in 2011 and now works as a practitioner for Nature Doc, offering one-to-one consultations and running workshops in Oxfordshire.