HS2 and GB productivity
According to HS2 Ltd chairman David Higgins, the company’s proposed high speed rail line is needed to fix Britain’s productivity gap.
[Higgins: Why HS2 is the right option for Britain, New Civil Engineer, 1 June, 2015 (paywall)]
The rationale behind Britain’s biggest infrastructure project – High Speed 2 – has been frequently challenged by NCE’s readers. Here HS2 chairman Sir David Higgins puts his case for the mega-project.
The Prime Minister has said it. The chancellor has said it. The Governor of the Bank of England has said it. This country not only has a productivity problem but a productivity problem that is at least partly due to the unbalanced nature of our economy which has led to real pressure on housing, commercial property and transport in London, side by side with under-development further North.
That paradox is the result of our collective failure to think strategically about our infrastructure needs as a country, and then implement the plans we need to address those needs. Time and again, whether it has been Crossrail or Thameslink, we have known what needs to be done – and then dithered. The result has been not just an infrastructure which has failed to keep up with the country’s fundamental needs, but also has added real cost as a direct result of our indecision. Our collective failure to follow through on what we know needs to be done has cost this country dear in all senses. Talk has been anything but cheap.
As can be seen from the diagram above, Britain has been underperforming in terms of productivity for decades (well before any European country had high speed rail). If David Higgins thinks spending £50+ billion on HS2 would transform GB productiveness, perhaps he should produce some evidence-based quantification.
He has also not produced any evidence to support his claim that upgrading existing railways would “provide poor value for money” and “cause consistent and significant disruption lasting for many years”. All the available evidence suggests that upgrades would be less disruptive and provide vastly better value for money (for example, the 51m scheme had a benefit/cost in excess of 5).