A think tank advocating a low-tax society has issued a report stating that HS2 should be scrapped as the emergence of driverless cars makes the business case for the project increasingly weak.
The TaxPayers’ Alliance, whose mission is to ‘give taxpayers a voice in the corridors of power’, said the high-speed rail link - theoretically connecting London with Birmingham in 23 minutes journey time from 2026 onwards - will be poor value for money.
The alliance’s report described the business case behind the government-supported project as flawed, as the think tank believes the whole scheme will be obsolete by the time it is finished due to the development of autonomous cars.
"HS2 is a wasteful vanity project which is unlikely to be completed on schedule and will cost taxpayers a fortune,” said Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance.
"The new Prime Minister should now be pursuing bold and imaginative policies to boost economic growth and increase productivity and that positive approach must include scrapping HS2, which has cost taxpayers far too much already.”
According to Isaby, the new government should instead focus on delivering infrastructure projects that will offer more benefits for less investment.
HS2 is expected to cost about £55.7bn, but the TaxPayers’s Alliance believes the price tag will increase to at least £88bn. The think tank also said the timetable for the HS2 construction is too uncertain and that it is highly likely it won’t start running as projected. The first phase to Birmingham is now believed to be operational in 2026. The second phase – a Y shape extension to Leeds and Manchester - is scheduled to begin operations in 2033.
The Department for Transport, overseeing the project, disagreed with the TaxPayers’ Alliance’s findings.
"The case for HS2 is absolutely clear,” said a DfT spokesman. “It will create jobs and skills now and will help spread opportunity and growth in the longer term and bring our country closer together.”
He added that the economic benefit of HS2 is strongly supported not only by MPs of all parties but also by the cities in the north and the Midlands, who hope to benefit from the improved connectivity.
"The National Audit Office has confirmed HS2 is on track and the Transport Select Committee also said it is confident the scheme is the only practical way to significantly increase rail capacity,” the spokesman added.
The HS2 scheme has proved controversial from its inception. Last year, the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee questioned the government’s case for the project. The peers said the main arguments for the costly construction lacked sufficient support and said other more cost effective alternatives should be explored.
However, Lord Adonis, chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, said failing to build HS2 would constitute a ‘reckless disregard’ for the interests of the nation.