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Rees-Mogg: ‘Pull the plug’ on HS2 to fund Bath bypass

Rees mogg

Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg has urged government to “pull the plug” on High Speed 2 (HS2).

Speaking exclusively to New Civil Engineer at the Conservative Party Conference, Rees-Mogg said that the scheme should be scrapped and the money “better spent elsewhere”.

Highlighting the need to invest in local rail and road projects, Rees-Mogg proposed a bypass in Bath as a scheme which could be funded by reclaiming the £52bn set aside to deliver HS2. Rees-Mogg is MP for North East Somerset.

“I think it is absolutely time to face the facts and pull the plug on the HS2 project,” Rees-Mogg told New Civil Engineer. “I think we must face up to reality and not get sucked into a sunk cost fallacy situation.

“We must not fall foul of investing more time and money into something just because we have already invested a lot into it.”

He added: “I actually think we should spend more money on smaller infrastructure projects around the country.

“There are plenty of smaller rail and road schemes and I would like to see the focus switched to those.

“In particular I would like to see the delivery of a bypass in Bath, for example.”

Rees-Mogg’s comments follow strong criticism for the high speed rail project by former foreign secretary Boris Johnson.

In a Sunday Times interview released on the first day of the Conservative Party Conference, Johnson said: “There are projects we should have on transport in the North of the country that ought to take precedence over HS2.

“It’s crazy how long it takes to get east-west across the country.”

Johnson again called for a feasibility study for a bridge between the UK and Ireland, urging government to use the money set aside for HS2 to carry out the project.

The leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom also called for the rail line to be halted, on the eve of the party’s conference.

Backers of the scheme have been quick to dismiss calls to scrap the line. Business secretary Greg Clark said halting the scheme now is “completely the wrong decision”.

“We’ve made a decision to invest in HS2 - I think it’s important that we follow through with that,” he said.

However, transport secretary Chris Grayling turned down the opportunity to defend HS2 in his speech at the conference, instead focussing on a new funding scheme for trunk roads around the country.

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Readers' comments (4)

  • Philip Alexander

    Hooray for Rees-Mogg in calling for the blindingly obvious.
    Scrap this stupid vanity project NOW.
    Unfortunately, the press (and the NCE is guilty here) just picks up on his comment about building a Bath Bypass in order to make him look foolish by looking at the small parochial picture. I am sure he is not suggesting that you only build a Bath Bypass with the HS2 "budget", merely that there are hundreds of more worthy and useful road and rail projects which could be funded by this obscene amount of HS2 money.
    And although the party line is now £52 BILLION (remember it was £43 BILLION when it started off), it is clear to any experienced civil engineer that it would cost at least £100 BILLION. All for saving a few minutes off a rail journey time which would be wasted anyway by having to travel to completely out of the way stations in order to catch a high-speed train. Isn't the present 140 mph on certain lines fast enough for this small island? Or at least the amount of this small island which would be served by HS2.
    I'm pleased to see that Boris is also in favour of scrapping HS2. He gets my vote. But once again, the press is trying to make him look foolish by advocating for a bridge between (not UK, NCE) but Great Britain and Ireland. Remember that Northern Ireland is part of the UK.
    The more I think of the reporting on this, the more I think that the NCE (and ICE) is doing its utmost to advocate for HS2 rather than putting a balanced argument for and against.
    Just because it would provide jobs for ICE members and others in the construction industry (most of whom are EU nationals anyway, rather than British!) the NCE/ICE insist that HS2 is a good project. That does not follow at all. A good project is one which satisfies social and economic needs whilst ensuring that the environment is protected. This project fails COMPLETELY on all 3 counts.

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  • Clearly no business case for a tiny reduction in journey times to Leeds, where improvements to ECML will deliver improvements anyway. Save £13 billion and use 140mph trains from Sheffield and Crewe going north and electrify and improve MML. Simples!

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  • There is a simple capacity issue that neither of the previous commentators have addressed. We need more seats for journeys to London from Birmingham, Leeds, Crewe etc. We also need more space for freight.

    We can provide those seats with a series of new motorways running up the country (not just one - it would not have the capacity needed) or a new rail line, freeing some capacity for more freight on the existing lines. Tinkering with the MML is not going to provide what is needed, electrified or not.

    Yes, regional railways need improvement - it is quicker to get from London to York than to parts of Kent, for one example, and for another the service from Norwich to Birmingham is so poor that it is quicker to travel via London. Everyone will have their own examples. However, this is not a zero sum game. We can develop a strategy that works for all.

    The change in budget for HS2 is probably (and I accept that I am just a member of the public and have no special access to their accounts) as much a reflection of changed scope (addition of Crewe to phase 1), contingency and confidence level requirements as anything else. Claims that the final cost will be £100bn require a calculation to justify them. We know what medium speed rail should cost - we have examples from across the world to guide us (HS2 is not high speed in a world sense).

    Good engineering decisions come from an ability to see through the bluster and politicking of public debate and focus on evidence. In that regard I admit surprise that a GB-NI bridge is back on the agenda, given the vast cost and small catchment served. How will the people served by such a bridge be able to afford it? But I have limited evidence, so perhaps others like Philip Alexander can bring some forward.

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  • Philip Alexander

    Mr King requires evidential calculations on how I forecast that the cost of HS2 at TODAY'S PRICES, will be over £100 BILLION. No problem. I was Chief Executive of the Transportation Division of Halcrow during construction of HS1 so have a little background.
    HS1 cost just about £11 billion for just under 110km, so a nice easy average cost of £100 million per km. Since opening of the second stage in 2007, construction cost inflation is conservatively estimated at 60%, since the UK Gov has made it very difficult to get accurate figures online. It's probably nearer 70% but using 60% from 2007 to 2018, the cost per km ( assuming the same mix of earthworks, tunnelling and viaducts) should be approximately £160million per km. The first phase is 230km so a possible cost would be £36.8 billion at today's prices, but delivered in 2026. Pardon me for laughing. The second phase of HS2 is 300km to be delivered in 2033, but at today's prices using £160 million per km again, that's a cost of £48billion. So that's a starting total cost for HS2 of £84.8 Billion.
    However, the length of tunnelling, especially on Phase 1 is proportionately higher than for HS1, as is the length of viaduct structures. Not only that, the cost of the works in London at Euston and in the major cities of Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield and that major metropolis of Toton will also be proportionately higher than those at just the one major station at St Pancras in HS1 which cost "only" about £700 million. Euston is already estimated to cost £7Billion (!!) due to the complexity and the sky high land and property costs (which were not a problem at St Pancras). I would estimate these "city works" to be an extra over cost of at least £10 billion. We're up to £95 billion. The line is to be engineered for 400km/hr (compared with 300kmph for HS1) so the power supplies (do we have enough spare capacity in the national grid??) in particular will be greater than for HS1.
    In fact, just about everything will be a step change more expensive simply because the rolling stock and signalling will be that much higher spec than HS1. So let's add another £10billion for that. After all, the government seems to throw the odd billion around as if it's spare change these days - unless it's for the NHS of course. They have to get the begging bowl out. So now we're up to £105 billion. And that's before we've bought the rolling stock and all the other stuff which you need to run actual trains. But I'll stop there since I believe I have made the point (if not actually proved it) that the cost will be in excess of £100 BILLION. That's a staggering amount of money. And at that cost, the cost outweighs the benefits by the government's own figures. They were showing a BCR of 2.8 at a 2007 cost estimate of £32 billion, so benefits of £89.6 billion.
    Even the UK Gov's own cost estimate has increased from £32billion in 2010 to £52 billion in 2017. It's the classic ruse of increasing the cost estimate in increments by trying to disguise the increase as "normal inflation" rather than as blatant under-estimation initially, in order to get the project underway.
    What puzzles me is who in government actually still thinks it's a good idea and needed so much that it's worth spending £100 BILLION on it.
    Please, it's not too late to cancel it. If this country really has that sort of money to spend on infrastructure, there are hundreds of other, more deserving projects than HS2 which will deliver massively better benefit/cost ratios.

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