HS2 was never going to benefit Wales: and no distortion or trick can change that fact. We in Wales have paid towards a railway that leaves us further behind, less connected, and we’ve been cheated out of billions of pounds for that perverse privilege: billions we could have spent on improving our own creaking infrastructure.
Earlier this month, Rishi Sunak confirmed the worst-kept secret in UK politics: that he was cancelling the HS2 line north of Birmingham, and selling off the land it was intended to be built on for good measure. A scorched earth policy, in almost its literal sense. Mr Sunak made vague promises about electrifying the north Wales mainline – before hastily back-pedalling on any specifics. It was cynical stuff from a Prime Minister who knows he’s unlikely to be in post for long enough to be answerable for these new hostages to fortune.
That’s what we’ve come to expect from Westminster – they promise us the skies shamelessly, and then struggle to break ground (anyone remember the Great Western Mainline electrification pledge?) And all too often, when it comes to the planning or the serious work to make our trains actually run (forget about running on time), they make tracks, they skedaddle. Well, at least someone’s making them, they must chortle.
But seriously: the fact that the Crewe interchange won’t be going ahead has demolished any notion that this sham of a project will be of any benefit to our nation. It’s been bewildering to watch successive Tory Ministers claim that first HS2, then Northern Powerhouse Rail were somehow England-and-Wales projects, despite the fact that not an inch of their tracks fall within our borders. We knew that the Tories in Westminster were without a moral compass. But in recent months, I’ve started to question whether they even own a compass.
No, it is as clear as day: HS2 is an England-only project, aimed at improving England’s railways – well, good luck to them. But it should never have been at Wales’ expense.
It is maddening to think of what we could have done with the billions we’ve been cheated out of. Because while London is yet again benefiting from high-speed railways, in Wales we have to make do with Victorian infrastructure. In 2020-21 only 3.7% of Wales’ rail tracks were electrified, compared with over 43% in England, and 32% in Scotland. The billions we’re already owed from the earlier stages of HS2 could be used towards electrifying our entire rail network, and to support out struggling bus network, which is reeling from a lack of funding.
I’m reliably informed that the ratio separating what’s spent on UK Government rail enhancement commitments in England as opposed to Wales is approximately 200:1. It’s like some kind of rigged, biased gameshow, where Wales always has the losing hand. Because a conman keeps taking our money.
The injustice over HS2 needs to be put right by whoever is in power in Westminster – because for as long as decisions on our literal direction of travel are made in another country, the destination will never be of our choosing. Decisions over major infrastructure projects, and over transport should be made in Wales. Powers over what happens on our own lines and tracks should be in our possession. The failure to devolve these powers to our Senedd has left us inert and unable to challenge this latest outrage.
And we need that commitment from Labour, just as much as we need it from the current shambles in Westminster. Because of course a Keir Starmer-led government would have many demands on its purse strings. Of course difficult decisions will face them. But this is no hypothetical future project, a decision over whether to embark on which is still to be made. It is a question of correcting an historic injustice. A mistake that’s already been made – a trick that’s already been played.
It is a project for a railway that neither starts where it was meant to begin, nor ends where its destination was due to be. But at no point in its journey has Wales been given the money we deserve.
It is money we must demand, from whoever is in government in Westminster. They owe us this money – it is rightfully ours. And they need to pay up.
It’s time that Westminster gave us back our billions.