GUEST BLOG: HS2 - Would Darling and the IoD have built the M25 and Channel Tunnel?

With the IoD and a wave of Labour politicians bashing HS2, Nigel Cooper argues it is essential for the UK's development

by Nigel Cooper
Last Updated: 29 Oct 2013
Investment in industrial and commercial infrastructure is the back bone of economic growth, so I am surprised the Institute of Directors have joined the ex-Chancellor's criticism of the return on investment of HS2. While I do not think that HS2 is a higher priority than solving London’s desperate need for extra runway capacity, there is no doubt that it is an essential ingredient in our future development.

Why are high speed rail links essential? I won’t bore you with stats and graphs, but simply remind you how our rail network is frequently criticised for falling behind our G8 counterparts, often I might add, by the same individuals and organisations who are now coming out against that very same investment. France, Germany and Japan have all invested in high speed rail links between their major cities and are used as examples to highlight our failings.

Infrastructure investment is expensive, troublesome, opposed, late, controversial and yet when completed seen as a triumph and a godsend. If we had to build Eurotunnel today it might cost in excessive of £100 billion, and that’s a modest estimation, and would probably be objected to even more ferociously by those without the foresight to see the benefit. When it went bankrupt we didn’t dismiss it, we persevered, bailed it out and completed the project - who now would rather sit on a ferry?

The City of London’s big bang was also widely opposed, but it help build London into one of the major financial centre’s underpinning decades of economic growth.

The M25 was probably the most objected to development in the last 40 years and took nearly 20 years to complete as a result, but can you imagine life in the south east without it?

Commercial and industrial infrastructure is essential. We’ve already fallen behind other G8 countries with high speed rail links connecting our major cities and we are also in danger of falling behind in the battle to be Europe's key airline hub. France and Germany, our biggest and closest competitors, must be laughing at our inability to build a third runway at Heathrow and our antiquated rail network.

Of course some in the south question why they would want to go to the north more quickly – an understandable if not somewhat parochial question, but I suspect all the hoteliers, museums, venues, cafes, restaurants and attractions in London would quite like a few more visitors coming down to the smoke. Or has the fact that trains go in two directions alluded some?

There is much talk of economic recovery. Our lack of investment in infrastructure can easily threaten this and there is a mountain of damage to repair in the UK after decades of under investment. Roads need widening, Heathrow needs a third runway and we need better connections between our airports and cities. Delaying improvements to our infrastructure will cost us investment being routed elsewhere.  We don’t want Heathrow to lose its hub status to Schiphol or Charles de Galle.

So, it’s surprising that the IoD are the latest organisation to say they question the value of HS2 following Alistair Darling’s similar comments last week.  Perhaps the next time they are zipping off to Paris in 2 hours 15 minutes they will be asking if investing in something like HS2 sooner would have been a better use of Labour’s wasted billions?

Nigel Cooper is the executive director of P&MM Events & Communications and founding chair of events association, eventia.

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