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Sunday 27 April 2014

HS2 – Vote Brings More Whoppers

With the HS2 bill returning to the Commons next week, those still trying to derail the whole exercise have stepped up to denounce it. Sadly, this denunciation consists of the same kind of dishonesty that characterised the last round of denunciation. So few will be swayed. But they’re going to do it anyway, starting with someone from the Telegraph called Liam Halligan.
High speed trains at Madrid's Chamartin station. More than five years ago

His column, so we are told, “tackles head on the key issues facing the British and global economy”. And it grandly proclaims thatThe HS2 infrastructure project is 'the wrong solution to the wrong problem’”. Sadly for Liam, he fails to define what the problem, right or wrong, actually is (hint: it’s about network capacity, but the speed is also useful). Some of his statements are comical in their waywardness.

HS2 “proposes to shave just 20 minutes from the London to Birmingham journey time” (35, actually), “at a ... cost of £42bn” (that includes going all the way to Leeds and Manchester), “Costs will obviously spiral far beyond official projections” (you forgot the contingency of £14 billion) and the magnificent “the West Coast Main Line [overran] by almost 80pc”. IT WASN’T A NEW BUILD, WAS IT?

The whole point of a new build line is that upgrading existing ones while they are still in day-to-day use is very expensive (see also under motorways). And Halligan then sprays his credibility up the wall in one go by talking of “spending £80bn-plus on the London-Birmingham leg of HS2”. Playing make-up-a-scary-number is not going to convince anyone, other than that whoever is doing it is not credible.

And talking of “not credible”, the Mail brings news of claims about the project by “by respected free-market think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs” (Zelo Street’s filleting of the last hot and steaming IEA HS2-bashing turkey HERE and HERE). Readers are told “The think tank ... cast wider doubt on the benefits of faster rail links by citing the case of Doncaster in South Yorkshire”.

Ho yus? “The town was ranked 42nd worst out of 318 English boroughs in the 2010 Index of Multiple Deprivation”. As Jon Stewart might have said, two things here. One, someone seems to have missed all those job losses from mining and other industries, and two, Doncaster is the railhead for a rather wider area than its administrative boundaries. And we can all play town and city comparisons.

Indeed, I’ll take the IEA’s Doncaster and raise them Peterborough, Swindon, Ashford, Leeds, York, Manchester, Bristol, Bath, Newark and Mrs T’s home town of Grantham. The IEA is cherry-picking and ignoring any factors that are inconvenient to its argument. And the Mail does itself no favours by giving a platform to Tory MP Cheryl Gillan to trot out more of the same.

The HS2 vote will be a formality. As will this blog’s filleting of the IEA report.

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