HS2 lacks a mandate

HS2 lacks popular support….scrap it!

Every opinion poll conducted on the merits of HS2 show a majority of people in the UK as a whole firmly against it. Only in London does it actually have more support than opposition, which says a lot. A 2021 YouGov poll showed support for HS2 across the UK at 25% with 39% against and 11% ‘don’t know’ – the rest were neither for nor against. In London, the only region in support, 30% were in favour and 27% against, showing a large drop from the previous year.In the North of England, support was at 24% and opposition 42%.

Another UK-wide poll, conducted by Statista in 2020, showed UK 26% in favour and 42% in opposition.

A recent survey was undertaken by Redfield and Wilton Strategies and their findings were published in June this year. They tested general awareness of the HS2 project and found that to be high. They went on to comment: “Amidst this considerable awareness of the project, there is substantial opposition to it: a plurality (43%) of Britons aware of HS2 say they oppose it, compared to 29% who support HS2 and 25% who neither support nor oppose it. In April and May 2021 we found a similar 45% of those in the West Midlands metropolitan area who said they were familiar with HS2 were in opposition to the railway project.”

The pollsters also found that people view it as poor value for money: “a majority (56%) of Britons aware of HS2 say that it is a bad investment that does not represent good value for money, whereas a quarter (25%) believe it is a good investment and 18% are unsure. Following such statements, 48% of this sample think that HS2 should be scrapped and 33% think that it should not be scrapped, while 19% do not know. This demonstrates that opposition to HS2 is strong, with a plurality of Britons preferring to see HS2 scrapped than its continued development.

The professional magazine, The Engineer, undertook a poll in November 2020 which found that 77% of its readers wanted HS2 cancelled with only 23% in favour of keeping it.

From my own experience, people who oppose HS2 are not ‘petrol heads’ who want the money poured into new roads, nor Thatcherites who hate public spending. They want the money to go into improving public transport, rail, tram and bus.

All the evidence suggests that HS2 is unpopular and people think it should be scrapped. The sums of money we’re talking about – £100 billion or more – are eye-watering. The case for HS2 before the Pandemic was flimsy, to say the least. Today, it’s non-existent.

Finally, given the amounts of money involved, HS2 highlights the lack of democracy in the UK. In Switzerland, with its excellent transport network, major projects are subject to a popular vote. HS2 cries out for a referendum. I’m 100% sure that people would vote for it to be scrapped and the money put to better use in improving the rail network as a whole.

By Paul Salveson

Paul was born in Bolton in 1952, one day before the Harrow and Wealdstone rail disaster. He has had a varied career, mostly to do with railways, mixed in with adult education, journalism, politics and community development. After a 25 year exile he is back home in Bolton. He is a visiting professor at the Universities of Bolton and Huddersfield and chairs South East Lancs Community Rail Partnership

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