Former chancellor of the exchequer Alistair Darling has criticised the controversial, multi-billion pound HS2 rail line, which he says has “highly contentious” economic benefits.
Writing in the Times on Friday, the Labour MP said that although he had initially been in favour of the project, new evidence meant he could no longer give it his backing.
“The facts have changed. The case for HS2 was just about stateable in 2010. I don’t believe that it is today”, Darling wrote.
“It is not too late to revisit the project. We need to ask ourselves what we would gain if it goes ahead. Equally we must then ask ourselves what we will have to lose.”
Phase two details for HS2 were unveiled in January. The government said the high-speed rail network, which will connect Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and the East Midlands, was expected to cost some £32 billion. This figure was ramped up to £42.6 billion in the spending review in June.
The National Audit Office said in May that it was “too early” to say whether HS2 would deliver economic benefits to the UK.
Then on Monday, a report released by the right-wing thinktank the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) claimed the project could actually set the government back over £80m – more than double its initial estimates.
In his Times article, Darling claimed that the increased cost estimates have led him to conclude that there are “better ways” to spend the HS2 money.
“One thing I have learnt is that transport, rather like banking, is at its best when it is boring”, the former chancellor added.
“That is when it tends to work. Political visions can easily become nightmares.”
He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that although he was an “enthusiast” for railways, his fear was that if HS2 went ahead, the government would be left will very little money left to improve the rest of Britain’s rail network.
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