Despite having been an HS2 supporter initially, the former business secretary has now admitted the London-Birmingham rail link might eventually prove to be an ‘expensive mistake.’
Writing in the Financial Times, Lord Mandelson has urged the government to reconsider the project as it might become damaging to the northern regions, instead of helping them. He admitted the project’s initiators, including Mandelson himself, have underestimated the costs and have never given enough consideration to the negative effects the construction might have on people’s lives.
"The decision was also partly politically driven. In addition to the projected cost, we gave insufficient attention to the massive disruption to many people's lives construction would bring. Why? Not because we were indifferent but because we believed the national interest required such bold commitment to modernisation."
In 2010, the government led by Gordon Brown supported the HS2 rail project with an estimated cost of some £30bn. However, since then, the estimates have changed and it is now believed the project will require an overall £42.6bn investment. For Mandelson, this is a reason why the decision-makers "should not offer it an open cheque and should, instead, insist on keeping their options open".
"I once supported High Speed 2, a proposed rail link from London to the North that the Labour government of which I was a member first put forward. There are no simple options when it comes to transport, but I now fear HS2 could be an expensive mistake," he said.
Mandelson further said that Brown’s government was partly driven to back the HS2 construction by the need to revitalise the economy that was struggling in the wake of the financial crisis and hinted the Labour government might have overlooked other options – such as upgrading the east-coast and west-coast main lines, regional rail improvements and mass transit systems in provincial cities.
"In 2010, when the then Labour government decided to back HS2, we did so based on the best estimates of what it would involve," said Lord Mandelson. "But these were almost entirely speculative.”
Despite the Labour leadership still being supportive of the project, some concerns within the party begin to surface. For example, the former chancellor Alistair Darling joint the anti-HS2 front this weekend when he declared himself an "HS2 sceptic".