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HS2 economic case "misleading public", claims think-tank

Words: Roger Milne

The government's economic case for HS2 does not add up and the scheme should be abandoned, a new report claims.

Failure to Transform (pdf), published by right-wing think-tank the Institute of Economic Affairs, argues that government claims that the high speed rail link will 'transform' the north of England are "misleading the public".
The study’s author, Dr Richard Wellings, says the evidence shows that HS1 has had no impact on East Kent since opening. In fact, writes Wellings, the average employment rate for East Kent from 2010-13 was lower than pre-HS1 and the region performed economically worse than the South East as a whole.
Economic evidence from other towns with a fast rail link to London, such as Doncaster, suggest rapid travel alone will not improve local economies, claims Wellings. In fact, the public would be landed with nothing more than a "very large tax bill".

"Politicians and officials risk misleading the public by claiming that HS2 will transform the North when there are strong theoretical and empirical grounds for concluding that such an outcome is highly unlikely," Wellings writes.

The author told BBC Radio 4's The Today Programme that the government should instead concentrate on developing better local and regional links in the north of England, including a trans-pennine railway linking Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester. This, he argued, would create a "single employment market" that would be of far greater economic benefit to the region than fast trains to London.
The report was published as 30 Conservative MPs pledged to abstain from a vote on the second reading of the HS2's bill on Monday night. This is a greater number than voted against the bill on its first reading in June 2013.
The Department of Transport dismissed the think-tank's report, describing elements of Wellings' argument "bizarre".