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Tuesday 29 January 2013

HS2 – The Naysayers Speak

As voters and their representatives in the East Midlands, North West and Yorkshire pored over the preferred route announcement for the second phase of the HS2 project, those routinely opposed broke cover and told whoever would listen why the whole business was, variously, a white elephant, a “railway for the rich”, laid with “gold plated tracks”, and that they weren’t happy.

Faster even than the one on the left ... perhaps

Also noticeable were those who had previously opposed the scheme, but this time had decided to remain silent, most significantly the Adam Smith Institute (ASI), that museum of economic thought that has fraudulently appropriated the name of the founder of economics. The ASI’s report, “High Speed Fail”, much lauded by its right wing bedfellows, had not even been read for technical competence.

One of those bedfellows praising a report whose author couldn’t correctly figure out the distance between the rails was the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), whose chief non-job holder Matthew Sinclair most certainly was not going to keep schtum: “deluding itself ... vast sums ... white elephant ... isn’t credible ... flawed projections ... rich man’s train line ... fundamental flaws ... enormous bill”.

Sadly, though, Sinclair sprayed his credibility up the wall by citing only the TPA’s own “research” on HS2, which as I’ve pointed out previously, includes false assumptions, logic leaps and forthright figure fiddling, as well as backing a capacity improvement exercise for the West Coast Main Line (WCML) that would not be workable and would reduce capacity for commuters.

And the TPA is not the only body indulging in this sort of thing: the template was set by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) back in 2011, with “We have considerable credibility here”, they say, then provide no links or other citations to back up what looks suspiciously like their own alterations to the assumptions in the business case to produce the required results.

That approach was taken forward yesterday by the New Economics Foundation (NEF), whose argument was, unsurprisingly, that their own “independent” analysis supported their conclusion that HS2 was A Very Bad Thing. Then they wheel out phrases like “full steam ahead”. And suggested they were taken on trust. It was little better with pundits like Harry Mount at the Telegraph.

“£34 billion will be splurged ... crazily optimistic ... gold-plated railway line through some of Britain’s prettiest countryside” he moans, while wibbling about William The Conqueror and the Winchester Accord, as if what happened in 1072 has any relevance to HS2. I’m sure, though, that he is familiar with that “prettiest countryside” and isn’t just ranting about places he’s never visited.

Thus the motley band of doom mongers. Dionysius Lardner would have approved.

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