Today has brought another propaganda onslaught against the HS2 project from both the Mail and Telegraph, and although the papers use different sources in support, as Mrs Beckermann told Charlie Croker in The Italian Job, It Wasn’t An Accident. While the Mail’s screaming headline – “A Stake In The Heart Of Middle England” – is a blatant over-egging of the pudding, that in the Tel has a “real report” behind it.
May look something like this. May not, though
Let’s get the Mail out of the way first: much of this almost hysterical piece is based on the routes that will be taken by HS2 site traffic. At no point are readers told how much traffic already uses any of the roads concerned, nor how much site traffic there will be, and nor is there any idea given of the hours during which movements may occur. It is then backed up with forthright dishonesty.
Such is the desperation within Northcliffe House that we are told of “spending £50 billion to shave five minutes off the rail journey between London and Birmingham”. Phase 1 of HS2 will cost rather less than half that amount, and someone missed the 3 before the 5. Here there is a connection with the Tel’s piece, that being the imaginative use of Big Scary Numbers.
The numbers come courtesy of a sneak preview given by the Institute Of Economic Affairs (IEA), which by the most fortunate of coincidences was already opposed to HS2. Its report “will suggest ministers are pursing the project to ‘buy votes’ in Labour’s northern heartlands”. Er, hello? There will be four General Elections before HS2 Phase 2 is completed. No party can look that far ahead.
But the IEA report does, we are told, contain 58 pages, and is therefore “the biggest independent piece of research yet into the cost of HS2”. Very good: the IEA ain’t independent, and rather more than 58 pages’ worth of HS2 knocking copy has passed before my examination in the recent past. And the central argument of the IEA report has been used before.
This is the concept of adding the capital cost of other transport schemes to that for HS2, on the pretext that those using one may then use the other. An example, I suspect, will be the westward extension of the Nottingham tram system to eventually terminate at the proposed HS2 station near Toton. The problem with this argument is that it is the tram which benefits from HS2, not the other way about.
That was what invalidated the attempt by the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) to add the cost of Crossrail 2 to the HS2 business case, because the former might serve London’s Euston terminus when complete. The TPA’s contention was bunk, as anything similar from the IEA will be. And save us the “other transport projects with a better cost-benefit ratio”. If HS2 was canned, the IEA would be agin those too.
So bring on the IEA report. It can’t be worse than what has gone before. Or can it?