The UK impact of HS2

14th June 2019

If you’re in the UK, you’ll undoubtedly be aware of the controversy surrounding HS2, the intended high-speed railway network linking London to Birmingham, and in the second phase, to the Northern cities of Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield. Despite work starting in 2017, debate continues regarding whether the largest infrastructure project in Europe will prove worthwhile, and there’s much attention on predicted impacts, both good and bad. Here, we’ll discuss some of these predicted effects on those living and working in the UK – aside of the frequently raised economic and environmental points.

Improved travel?

The majority of the UK’s rail infrastructure dates back to Victorian times, and it’s certainly time it was updated. We’ve previously blogged about how technology is benefitting rail customers – a new high-speed line could certainly trump this list. The government claims that the speed, reliability and comfort provided would generate £59.8 billion of user benefits.

The network would slash journey times between many major cities. For those who do these journeys regularly, HS2 is likely to be greatly welcomed, but those who miss out may feel very different.

It’s argued that HS2 is necessary to support the growing demand for rail – the West Coast Main Line is predicted to be at capacity by 2020. The new network could reduce the pressure. It’s also tipped to reduce congestion on the roads, by enticing many would-be drivers. It would also improve airport links, particularly to Manchester and Birmingham.

A boost for the North?

One aim of HS2 is to ‘heal the north-south divide’ – how successful this is likely to be is under much debate. There’s disagreement over whether capitals benefit most from high-speed rail by ‘sucking all wealth to the centre’ or if improved connectivity stands to boost the other cities it connects. Lille was certainly boosted by construction of the TGV – quicker travel to Paris enabled its transformation into a knowledge-economy city. Although, it’s worth noting that overall, Paris’ economy benefitted most.

The hope is that HS2 will make cities outside London attractive to business – increasing investment and improving opportunities. Quicker connection to London could benefit many businesses – which is not to be dismissed. However, it’s very industry dependent, as people are prepared to invest different amounts of travel time for different tasks. People may be happy to travel for longer for specialised financial services, but not to visit a dry cleaner, so many small high-street businesses are unlikely to benefit.

A report by KPMG predicts growth for all cities along the HS2 route, but a greater boost for the Midlands and the North, than London.

What about the disruption?

It’s a major project, so there’s bound to be disruption. 600 homes face demolition, and another 340 will be cut off from their wider neighbourhood.

This has been addressed though – homeowners can apply to be compensated through the HOP scheme, the route has been amended, and 22 miles of the line is now enclosed within a tunnel to reduce impact.

There are many other possible effects on UK residents, both positive and negative, from the employment opportunities, to the vast amount of greenbelt land that it would eat up. There are suggestions that economically, the scheme should be a huge success – HS2 claim that for every £1 spent, the UK will receive £2.30 in benefits. Should this be the case or not, whether HS2 will be a success story for the people remains to be seen. Trains aren’t scheduled to run along the first phase until 2026, and the second phase won’t be added until 2033. Will HS2 live up to the hype? In the end, only time will tell.

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