By Maximilian Clarke
This morning Transport Secretary Justine Greening made the eagerly awaited announcement that the £32.7bn High Speed 2 rail link from London to Birmingham had been given the green light; a decision that has been welcomed by business organisations at the same time as drawing significant criticism.
Economists from the Institute of Economic Affairs and from the Adam Smith Institute were quick to condemn the announcement, having campaigned against the project due to its high cost and what they argued were exaggerated benefits.
Local activists from the route, which carves through several areas of outstanding natural beauty, has also opposed the scheme, also claiming that purported benefits had been seriously exaggerated and were outweighed by its drawbacks.
But several business organisations have welcomed the decision as a much needed and long overdue investment into the UK’s infrastructure that will help bring the UK closer to its chief competitors in the EU.
“Businesses up and down the country will welcome the government’s decision to proceed with HS2,” commented John Longworth, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce. “But this project must be seen as one part of a comprehensive package of infrastructure improvements to underpin economic growth.
“HS2 is about increasing rail capacity in Britain, not just about speed. Without HS2, which would treble capacity, overcrowding will get worse, fares will rise, and delays will become even more common. Britain cannot continue to 'make do and mend' when it comes to its sub-standard infrastructure. Fundamentally, our global competitiveness is at stake.
“However, the battle for HS2 is not yet won. Ministers must legislate swiftly, and within this parliament, to demonstrate their rock-solid commitment to delivering a national high speed rail network. Further delays, for any reason, are not an option.
“Finally, this announcement must be complemented by commitments to detail the route of the high-speed network to the North of England and Scotland, to improve conventional rail services, and to deal with pressing capacity problems at our airports and on the roads.”
John Cridland, Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), added"
“The Government’s green light for high speed rail is welcome.
“Without new capacity, by the 2020s the main West coast line would be gummed up, and rail freight would be likely to be squeezed out.
“We are right to plan for the infrastructure which the next generation will need, and the biggest prize will come from phase two — the link with the North. This will help to spread the benefits of future economic growth across the country.”
Ian Simpson, partner and head of transport at leading professional services firm, Deloitte, also lauded the decision, though stressed the importance of addressing matters of governance early in order to ensure costs do not overrun:
"The Government’s approval of the high speed rail link is good news all round. British businesses will benefit from reduced commuting times and improved inter-city links, while the UK economy as a whole will benefit from job creation and longer-term economic benefits.
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