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HS2 unraveling after conference season

The Party Conference season has seen the political debate over HS2 change. Both party frontbenchs had previously been solidly behind HS2 but things are changing.

 

The Party Conference season has seen the political debate over HS2 change. Both party frontbenchs had previously been solidly behind HS2 but things are changing.

Speaking a fringe meeting organised by HS2 at the Labour conference Mike O’Brien has said, “The case for HS2 is unraveling as it comes under challenge.  Ministers have switched their arguments. At first it was supposed to be about speed, but when it was pointed out that people used laptops on trains, that collapsed and now it’s changed to ‘connectivity’, linking north to south.  But that is under question as people point out that what cities really need is better local commuter trains. But the main problem for HS2 is that the cost is escalating. As the cost rises support  falls. HS2 is increasingly being seen by many as a white elephant, something too expensive, which needs to be got rid of.”

In the last year Mike O’Brien has been lobbying Labour figures to change their position on HS2.  It has been an effort but he believes there is hope. He knows that if Labour pull out, HS2 is likely to collapse and villages in North Warwickshire will be spared the problems HS2 would cause.

After the Conference Mike said, “Ed Balls can think of other ways to spend the £50Billion the government has earmarked for HS2.  Ed knows my view and when I spoke to him the day before his conference speech, he told me he would say something I would like. As we know, after the speech the headlines were about his announcement that ‘There will be no blank cheque for HS2’.  He has not gone as far as Alistair Darling who wants it dropped, but it’s clear the party is now more willing to listen to HS2 opponents like me. The mood has changed, but there is still a lot more work for us to do.”

Mike O’Brien has been able to point to a series of recent reports from the Public Accounts Committee, the Institute of Directors, the Campaign for Rural England and the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA), which have highlighted serious problems with the project, especially about its cost.  The Institute of Directors called HS2 a “grand folly” which could end up costing £80 Billion.  
Now the proposed route to the north has been announced, Labour MP’s along the route are facing local opposition to HS2 and are asking serious questions about it.

Meantime the Conservative Conference saw the government redouble its efforts to shore up HS2.  The Prime Minister has asked George Osborne to lead campaign to build HS2.  Ministers are angry that Labour has become more skeptical about HS2. If anything the mood among Ministers  is more resolute that HS2 will be built.

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