Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

That 1970s No-Show

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

That 1970s No-Show

Article excerpt

High Speed Two (HSz) is going through the classic "cold feet" period that bedevils every major British infrastructure project and which, with our short-termist political culture and poor project management, often leads to them being cancelled.

This phase will continue until the 2015 election, when Labour will be tempted to propose "saving" [pounds sterling]42bn by cancelling a "Tory" project. It was at a similar point that an incoming 1974 Labour government cancelled the Channel Tunnel and a new London airport at Maplin Sands in the Thames Estuary, inherited from Edward Heath's government. They were deemed "Tory extravagance", although, like H[S.sub.2], their origins lay in the previous Labour government and there was nothing remotely right-wing about them.

These were stupid, shorttermist decisions. In the case of Maplin Airport, the last and best opportunity to relocate the UK's principal international gateway to a far larger and more suitable site was thrown away. We are still paying the price in the present impasse over a third runway at Heathrow, when the international airports serving Amsterdam, Paris and Frankfurt have six, four and four runways respectively. It would be a similar act of national self-mutilation to cancel HS2 in 2015.

The main justification for the project is not speed but capacity. There will be an acute shortage of transport capacity from the 2020s to carry freight, commuters and other passengers into and between London and the major conurbations of the West Midlands, the East Midlands and South and West Yorkshire. As there is no viable plan, let alone the political will, to build new motorways between these places, or to make possible a vast increase in air traffic between them, this additional capacity must be met largely by rail, or Britain will come to a halt. …

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