Rishi Sunak and HS2: he’s probably wishing the locomotive was more than just a concept image – then it could run over him and release him from the humiliation of its failure.
The high-speed rail link between London and the North, that has been under construction for most of the Tories’ 13 years in office, is a nearly-£100-million white elephant, Rishi Sunak will say in his keynote speech to the Conservative conference.
He will announce that the stretch of the line from the West Midlands to Manchester is to be scrapped, meaning the entire project is now just a slightly faster route from a town just outside London to Birmingham.
Sunak will try to save face for his party by outlining alternative transport projects in the north of England and Wales which he’ll claim will be better value for money and can be completed more quickly.
Let’s hope he’s right about that, because another 13-year wait with no certainty of anything at the end would make the UK a laughing st- well, more of a laughing stock internationally than it is, even today.
It was the project’s ever-rocketing costs that killed it in the end. It was projected to take £71 billion of public money back in 2019 – before the inflation crisis of the last year or so. No figures have been mentioned in relation to its current cost – and that could be to save the prime minister his blushes.
The BBC is reporting that HS2 was originally proposed in 2010, as a flagship infrastructure project for the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition government. It was approved in 2012, when “then-Transport Secretary Justine Greening called it ‘the most significant transport infrastructure project since the building of the motorways’.”
Hindsight can be cruel, can’t it?
The Tories soon descended into squabbles over price and place – how much it would cost and whose constituencies would be disrupted by its construction. According to the Beeb,
At least £22.5bn has already been spent building the London-Birmingham section, while £2.3bn has gone towards the second phase, on things such buying up land and property.
There are also people whose lives have already been uprooted by property purchases along the planned HS2 route north of Birmingham.
If Mr Sunak announces that HS2 trains will go to Manchester using existing tracks, it follows that no extra space would be created and journey time benefits would be reduced.
What a disaster.
And, again according to the BBC, Sunak is going to announce this monumental failure in a speech when he will tell the audience that he is the man to “fundamentally change our country”. For the worse?
Apparently he and his team want this speech – possibly his last before the next general election – to turn around both his fortunes and those of his party, which has been lagging behind Labour in opinion polls for more than a year. Wishful thinking? Forlorn hopes?
It seems to This Writer that he might just as well not give a speech at all but simply throw in a towel instead.
It would be a symbolic admission that his party’s project since 2010 has failed as utterly as HS2.
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