Essentially my objections to HS2 are three fold. One is its absolute cost. Government has finite resources unlike the theoretical firm of economics and finance theory. CBA is all well and good but as I think came up in another comment of mine here in the Long Room, they might as well pick figures out of thin air. Complicated and large scale engineering projects of this sort cannot possibly be modelled with any degree of accuracy in terms of their cost, let alone attempting to quantify their benefit and more importantly in much the same way neither can much of the harm they do to people’s quality of life. Simply claiming it will add so much to GDP growth per annum does not go nearly far enough to justify such projects. Large scale engineering projects such as HS2 differ hugely from say a new international airport or any greenfield or a lot of brownfield sites where there is some degree of containment from the outside world. This is the crucial and critical factor which is often overlooked in terms of differentiating between those where budgets and models are reliable and those where they are not.
My second objection is if this money is available for improving transport infrastructure it goes with out saying that so many £1bn projects around the country would improve the state of our infrastructure with the concomitant benefits to GDP, business and people’s quality of life far more than one super scale project.
My third objection is simply it shouldn’t be build. It’s unnecessary, extravagant, politically motivated bling of the sort peddled by lobby that will damage the UK’s architectural and rural heritage beyond repair, ruin the lives of those who live along the route up to as far as a mile away (c.300 sq miles blighted permanently or 75,000 Ha down the spine of England) and cause misery and disruption for I don’t know how many countless millions across the country for the decade or so of its construction
The handling of HS2 ties in with my fundamental critique of the civil service, let the conduct of the politicians. The UK may be quite unusual and unlike almost any other country where if you were to pay enough, you could have the best run organisation in the world. The UK employ a huge number of highly paid senior executives, consultants and so on, all of whom are highly skilled and excel at their job. The problem is effectively the same as with HS2 where there’s simply no room to put it. The UK civil service and its infrastructure is simply too old, complicated and cobbled together over countless years. Largely due to the 1000 years of uninterrupted democratic (or thereabouts) government so it has never been under the thumb of one individual with absolute authority, unlike say France or Germany and the rest of Europe. All this history means it is impossible to form a modern organisation run in an efficient and effective manner and delivering a quality service so the best we could ever hope for is government adopting a make do and mend mentality and approach everything with Kaizen principles of continuous improvement. This is as opposed to the consultant way favoured by politicians, of tinkering and fiddling, complicating and reorganising. It doesn’t matter how much you pay people, they all get sucked into the amorphous entropy of government with no hope of anything substantive ever changing or making much of a difference of any kind.