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HS2 alternatives report is ‘fantasy and fiction’

THE TaxPayers’ Alliance has published its latest arguments against HS2, saying that there are 28 local and regional transport infrastructure projects that could be funded if the High Speed project was scrapped.

Former cabinet minister David Davis is launching the TPA report today, which says the latest evidence suggests the costs of HS2 could almost double to more than £100 billion, and that at least some of the money would be better spent on alternative schemes.

The report provides the results of a competition launched by the TPA in September last year, which invited suggestions on how up to £50 billion could be spent on other transport schemes. The judges of the competition included Lord (Tony) Berkeley and infrastructure costs specialist Michael Byng, who has repeatedly warned that the official estimates of the cost of HS2 are far too low.

The 28 schemes named in the report have combined costs of £45.1 billion, which is almost £11 billion less than the current budgets for all phases of HS2. However, nearly a quarter of the total would be spent on roads or cycleways rather than railways.

The proposals include modernisation of the rail network across the Pennines (Northern Powerhouse Rail: £18.1 billion), electrification of the rest of the Midland Main Line (£5 billion) and the Chiltern Main Line (£1 billion), the extension of Crossrail to Stansted Airport and Cambridge (£5 billion), a supertram network for Leeds (£1 billion), the Sussex section of Brighton Main Line 2 (BML2) (£500 million) and the rebuilding of the line between Exeter, Okehampton and Plymouth (£500 million).

There are also numerous reopenings which would restore rail services on lines such as York-Beverley, Ashington/Blyth & Tyne, Penrith-Keswick, Skipton-Colne, Stourbridge-Lichfield, March-Wisbech and Bodmin Parkway-Wadebridge.

A further proposal for Cornwall involves reopening a former china clay line connecting the existing Newquay branch with the main line just west of St Austell, while another Midlands scheme concerns the Whiteacre Link, which would reconnect Whitacre Junction with Hampton-in-Arden to provide additional capacity between Coventry and Birmingham.

Station reopenings on current routes are suggested at Cullompton and Soham.

Some road schemes also find places on the list. They are the upgrading of the A5 as an expressway, dualling the A1 between Durham and Edinburgh, a new Lower Thames Crossing of 23km, including a tunnel, and 12,000km of cycle paths alongside motorways and trunk roads. The total cost of non-railway projects is put at just over £10 billion, or almost a quarter of the total budget for all 28 schemes on the TPA list.

TaxPayers’ Alliance chief executive John O’Connell said: ‘We have long argued that HS2 is a waste of taxpayers’ money and this report makes that fact even clearer. Instead of spending £56 billion on a vanity project, the government should heed this report. Given the number of excellent alternatives, it’s now time to scrap this white elephant.’

The calculations have been met with a vigorous response from the High Speed Rail Industry Leaders group, which has also questioned the basis of the TaxPayers’ Alliance itself.

A spokesman for the High Speed Rail Industry Leaders group said: ‘This appears to be the finest work of fantasy and fiction since JRR Tolkien last put down his pen.

‘Whilst the other infrastructure projects noted in the TPA report may indeed have merit, in most cases they are currently only at an early planning stage, so comparing costs is completely misleading. And 40 per cent of the TPA report’ s “saving” comes from getting the costs of Northern Powerhouse Rail completely wrong. They quote it at £18 billion, whereas Transport for the North say the project would cost £39 billion. This leaves a £21 billion black hole in their fantasy figures.

‘As cabinet minister Amber Rudd said last week, support for HS2 is a true test of whether people are serious about long-term investment in Britain. The project is already under way and employing thousands of people. We need to finish the job, and use HS2 to smash the north-south divide which has beset Britain for decades.

‘Finally, the TPA has long campaigned against HS2 without ever once revealing who funds them to do so. HSRIL campaigning is funded by its members, listed on our website. We challenge the TPA: who paid for this misleading and fantastical report?’

The Guardian reported on 20 November last year that the TPA think tank is ‘one of more than 475 right wing organisations around the world that are members of the Atlas Network. The Network trains and helps these organisations to promote free markets in 90 countries.’ The Alliance has reportedly received £223,000 from donors based in the USA over the past five years. It also has British supporters, and at least some of these are identified on the TPA website.

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