HS2 benefits ‘highly contentious’ according to Darling

23 August 2013
By Tereza Pultarova
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Former Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling said the promised economic benefits of the HS2 are 'highly contentious'

Former Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling said the promised economic benefits of the HS2 are 'highly contentious'

Former Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling has attacked the HS2 project saying it will drain railways of money for the next 30 years.

Calling the economic benefits of the venture “highly contentious,” Darling warned the scheme could easily “become a nightmare”.

"It is time to revisit the case for HS2,” he wrote in The Times. "My experience in government also makes me suspicious of big projects that can easily run out of control,” he said, warning that politicians are always excited by 'visionary' schemes.

“One thing I have learnt is that transport, rather like banking, is at its best when it is boring. That is when it tends to work," he said.

Darling is not the only member of the former government, originally approving of the scheme, to change his mind about it. Recently, former Labour Industry Secretary Lord Mandelson joined the anti-HS2 front calling the project, designed to connect London with Birmingham by 2026, an “expensive mistake.”

Darling has openly questioned the benefits of the high speed rail, currently estimated by the government to cost some £50bn including rolling stock, saying that the promised faster connection between the north and the south would save barely 30 minutes of commuter's time.

"The business case depends on an assumption that passengers aren't productive - that is, that they don't work on the train,” he wrote. "That may be true on a commuter train but not on long-haul intercity services. Arguably, more work is done on the train than in the office."

Earlier this week, the Institute for Economic Affairs has released a report estimating the real cost of the HS2 construction could possible double.

Rather than investing into such an expensive and questionable scheme, Darling suggested, the UK would benefit much more from improving other rail, bus and cycle schemes.

"The next Government and the one after that will be very short of money to spend on the infrastructure that we desperately need,” he wrote.

Commenting on Darling’s opinions, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin insisted HS2 still has widespread support across the parties.

He told BBC Radio 4's World At One: "I'm not sure cross-party support is weakening. The Labour Party are very much in support of HS2 and certainly when I met the core city leaders where HS2 will serve, all of them Labour Party members, they are very much in support."

He added: "This scheme is very important to the infrastructure of this country and all big infrastructure projects are all controversial.

"No doubt Alistair Darling knew that when he signed it off as chancellor of the Exchequer.

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