Boris told to scrap ‘wasteful’ HS2 and invest in world-leading broadband

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It is feared the controversial high speed rail network may end up costing £106billion and ex-Work and Pensions Secretary Ms McVey insists cash could be better used boosting public transport. Urging the Government to kill off HS2, she said: “By whatever measure you want to judge HS2 – value for money, cost, environmental impact – it fails.”

Ms McVey, now a leading figure in the Blue Collar Conservatism movement, said the project was “out of place, out of time and urgently needs to be consigned to the history books”. 

Pushing for a change of strategy, she said: “Local connections, linking local communities, are the transport links this country is crying out for – not a single higher speed, intercity link. For truly faster links at zero cost we will be using digital connections.”

Boris Johnson announced in February that HS2, which will initially link London and Birmingham, would go ahead but Ms McVey argues that Covid-19 has transformed how people do business.

Her comments come as the rail industry reels at the impact of the pandemic. There were 888million rail journeys in the first two quarters of 2019-20 but only 169million in the same time period in 2020-21.

In addition to broadband investment, Ms McVey wants a new strategy for local bus services and is calling for road improvements.

The Tatton MP said that “pot holes in my constituency and right across the country are a disgrace,” adding that “rural areas like mine up and down the country are pretty much deprived of all local public transport”.  

Pressing for an end to HS2 and for savings from reduced rail services to be used to fund local connections, she said: “From the first lockdown last March, train companies have been in trouble. Passenger numbers fell by 80% and Government stepped in to effectively nationalise the rail industry.

“So far it has cost the taxpayers £9billion and what was meant to be a temporary measure doesn’t look like changing anytime soon… At present the Treasury are desperately looking at ways to save money from this budget.

“So far they have managed to cut £2bn from it as they reduce the frequency of services… [The] best cost saving this Government could do is stop HS2, saving over £100billion in one fell swoop. 

“Then [it should] immediately return the £3.8billion that Government took out of the digital infrastructure budget in November.”

Stepping up her attack on HS2, she said: “First we were told HS2 was needed to avoid airport expansion. When that argument failed we were told it was all about speed.

“When that argument fell in a hole, we were told it was about capacity. Now it isn’t needed for that either, the government should stop scrabbling around for excuses for it and instead put us all out of our misery and put it to bed.”

North West Leicestershire MP Andrew Bridgen said that savings from HS2 could be used to  reopen the “Ivanhoe line” between Leicester and Burton.

He said it was “frankly an insult” to think that the way to make people in Midlands and the North “more prosperous and happier is to get to London faster”.

A Government spokesman said: “Covid hasn’t detracted the Government’s focus on the North and Midlands – in fact, by highlighting existing gaps in our society, the virus has reconfirmed the need to level up our country. HS2 is an integral part of delivering that.

“HS2 is not a railway for the short-term. This railway is a long-term investment which will bring our biggest cities closer together, boost productivity and provide a low-carbon alternative to cars and planes for many decades to come.

“As we build back better from Covid, we’re committed to bringing the benefits of high speed rail to the East Midlands, Yorkshire and beyond and our Integrated Rail Plan will outline how projects, including HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, can work together to deliver the reliable train services that passengers need and deserve, as quickly as possible.”

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