What a sorry mess the country has got itself into HS2 – a poorly planned project, executed badly, at tremendous cost in both time and money.
If reports are to be believed that the government is set to axe the Manchester – Birmingham leg, joining with its already dearly-departed Leeds cousin, then we are left not with a revolution in rail connectivity across the UK but a fast train from Willesden to a new station in Birmingham not connected to anything else. Whether that’s a better outcome than finishing the project as originally intended, at immense cost, will become a case study in the sunk cost fallacy.
How has it all gone so wrong? Political will died with George Osborne’s departure from No11, but we’ve soldiered on – a bit of digging here, a bit of building there. There will be a post-mortem on the HS2 disaster, but it is highly likely that the conclusion will be a lack of political oversight, an explosion of consultants, and poor management.
The problem with cock-ups of this magnitude is obvious. It’s highly likely that future infrastructure projects will find their path to fruition more challenging – with the establishment terrified of making another catastrophic error. And goodness me does Britain need to push on with infrastructure upgrades.
The country is creaking. That infrastructure that works properly – HS1, for instance, down to Kent – is ruinously expensive for those using it. Our roads are pockmarked with potholes, boring old commuter rail is hindered by strikes and outdated kit, and Transport for London’s funding deal with government runs out next year.
Nobody is proposing we go full Beijing and start railroading (sorry) projects through without a democratic process. But we have got to come up with better than the mechanism which has produced the HS2 farce.