Business split over future of High Speed 2

THE BRITISH Chambers of Commerce (BCC) yesterday insisted its members are “completely behind” the High Speed 2 railway – despite a rival business organisation withdrawing its support for the project.

John Longworth, director general of the BCC, told City A.M. that an entirely new line is still the only way to avoid a capacity crunch on the UK rail network, which would have damaging economic consequences.

“There needs to be a tight control of cost and the record of public procurement in the UK is not good – but fundamentally we are strongly in favour of it,” he said.

“We want politicians to be very clear that they’re going ahead with the project and it will be built. British businesses need certainity and we need politicians to take the long view.”

Yesterday the Institute of Directors (IoD) withdrew its support for the new link between the north and south, branding the £42.6bn scheme a “grand folly” and saying the money would be better spent elsewhere.

In the process they ended united support for the scheme among business groups and major political parties.

The IoD’s intervention follows mounting criticism from across the political spectrum that the project’s costs are spiralling out of control and calls to put money into smaller schemes.

KPMG’s Richard Threlfall yesterday said HS2 must go ahead due to its “transformational impact” on the UK, insisting the economic impact of the scheme would recover the anticipated cost “within just a couple of years”.

John Cridland, CBI director general, said his organisation still backs the project “in principle” but it “must be demonstrably clear that the benefits outweigh the costs”.

City A.M. yesterday revealed that Labour shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle would launch a review of the route linking HS2 to the existing High Speed 1 line if she were in power – even if this delays construction of the London leg of the railway.