In March, one of our contributors reported on the “Great Wales Train Robbery” that is the HS2 development.
In view of the fact that the HS2 high speed rail project has been dogged by claims of lack of value for money and overspending since its inception, it’s not surprising that the project has entered the UK headlines yet once again.
Billed as the “largest infrastructure project in Europe”, and the “most important economic and social regeneration project in decades”, the HS2 rail project will “integrate with new lines and upgrades across Britain’s rail system to deliver faster travel to many towns and cities, according to the website.
However, although the forecast spend for HS2 was expected to be in the region of between £72 and £98 billion according to 2019 prices (already a 29% – 75% increase on 2015 forecasts), the bill has increased due to inflation and the cost of materials. The spiralling costs have led to a link to Leeds being scrapped and the project is behind schedule: there is already a two decade construction programme to complete the rail network to Manchester.
The HS2 infrastructure map includes London Euston, Birmingham Curzon Street, East Midlands Parkway, Crewe, Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Airport. It is claimed that other areas not directly on the HS2 network such as Liverpool, Glasgow, Sheffield and Leeds will also benefit from “improved connectivity” as a result of the high-speed project.
As well as promising improved connectivity (notice how Cardiff or Swansea were not listed above), HS2 promises that every train will be powered by zero carbon energy and that the project will enable space on the current network for more local, regional and freight services, benefitting commuters with more regular trains.
While it is important to note that the project is said to be supporting 28,500 jobs and has created 1,200 apprenticeships to date, Wales is not set to derive any benefit from the project – despite the fact that we are making a significant financial contribution towards the project, to the tune of £5 billion.
Indeed, not a single metre of track will be laid in Wales and alarmingly, according to the Department of Transport’s own estimations, the HS2 project could even negatively impact the Welsh economy by up to £200 million a year.
Calls to re-classify HS2 as an “England-only” project, rather than an “England and Wales” project have predictably, fallen on deaf ears and the classification means that Wales will miss out on the Barnett consequential rightfully due to it – unlike Scotland and Northern Ireland. So much for being an “equal partner” within the Union!
Imagine our surprise (or lack thereof) when it was revealed last week that the UK Government had underwritten £680 million worth of investment for a new high-speed electric rail network in Turkey!
Not that we do not support the electrification of railways everywhere to effect high-speed rail travel, however, if it is the UK Government’s goal to support the modernisation of the railways in England and overseas – one begs the question, why does it not support doing so here in Wales?
Just 2% of Wales’ railways are electrified in comparison to 41% and 25% of English and Scottish railways respectively. What’s more, despite Wales occupying 11% of UK rail tracks, we have only received a meagre 2% worth of UK rail investment since the onset of devolution.
If ever there was evidence that we are the junior party in this Union, this is it. Independence would give us the spending, borrowing and taxing powers so desperately needed to invest in our vital services and infrastructure.