HS2 is the largest and most expensive infrastructure project that the UK has ever known. By a mile. At an estimated cost of about £111bn, it is twice the cost of Heathrow expansion (£18bn), Crossrail (£16bn), the 2012 Olympics (£9bn), the West Coast Main Line upgrade (£8bn), and High Speed 1 (£6bn) combined.
I have been opposed to HS2 since it was first proposed. Not only are its costs exorbitant – with very little in the way of a business rationale given the price tag – but it would have an especially deleterious effect on Camden.
In the south of the borough, where Euston is set to be the terminus, the effects will be felt the most. 500 homes will be demolished or made uninhabitable, while thousands more will be affected by unprecedented construction noise, dust, and pollution. While at UCL, I lived in Drummond Street – ground zero for HS2 – and know how important the local businesses are to the Regent’s Park community and the area’s appeal: dozens of which will be forced to close.
In the north of the borough, including Hampstead, the addition of 600 HGVs a day to Camden’s roads will bring traffic – which is already intolerable – to a standstill. And although construction work will be worst at Euston, works in Kilburn, Belsize, and Primrose Hill will last for years.
Beyond just the price-tag, it doesn’t actually achieve its economic objective. As I said in a speech at 2016 Conservative Party Conference, we won’t close the north-south divide – the rationale for the project – until labour productivity is raised in the north. This can only be done by improving what economists like me call the allocative efficiency of labour markets.
That means expanding the size of local and regional labour markets, not just connecting the big regional labour markets (central Manchester, central Birmingham) to London. To achieve that, the government should invest in intra-regional and suburban rail transport: which can’t be done if all transport funding goes on HS2.
On a personal note, having gone to school in Amersham and enjoyed the Chiltern countryside all my life, I am strongly opposed to the harm that will be done to Buckinghamshire. I am glad that Bucks County Council and MPs like Cheryl Gillan have been able to ameliorate the harm through conscientious and effective campaigning, but it still opposes too high a burden on Buckinghamshire, with no benefit to the county.
For these reasons, I have been vocal in opposition to HS2 and for better compensation and amelioration of harm to those affected, and will continue to be.