Opponents call for HS2 referendum

Martin Tett
Martin Tett
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Opponents to HS2 have called on the government to hold a referendum so voters can chose between the rail line and their alternative proposals.

Alternative ways of spending the £47 billion earmarked for HS2 on schemes which ‘will bring more immediate economic benefits across the UK’ are outlined in a document published by 51m, the alliance of 19 councils opposing the controversial rail project.

It sets out how the money could be better targeted to bring faster, higher value economic benefits across the entire country.

Martin Tett, leader of Buckinghamshire County Council and chair of the 51m Alliance said: “We are so confident of our programme that we challenge the Department for Transport to ‘ask the people’ by allowing the country to vote between HS2 and our alternatives at the time of next year’s European Elections.

“We are prepared to put our case to the people. Will the Department for Transport be?”

He added: “HS2 is a phenomenally expensive and controversial project which has rightly been challenged to justify that it represents best value for hard- pressed taxpayers’ money.

“Quite frankly, the business case has lost all credibility.

“The opportunity now is to show that the important objectives of spreading prosperity and closing the north-south divide can be delivered by an alternative investment strategy.

“We want to start a serious debate about the alternatives to HS2 that will benefit the entire country, our core cities but also our other major cities, our towns and all the economic centres of the United Kingdom.

“We are confident that our proposals would spread economic prosperity across the country.”

51m says its strategy challenges the Department for Transport’s latest reason for HS2 – the need to increase capacity on intercity routes from London to Manchester and Leeds – and proposes how capacity can be added to existing routes more cheaply and incrementally.

It details how large-scale investment in core cities’ transportation infrastructure can improve their competitiveness.

It also identifies the need for major investment to restore the nation’s roads and to build ultra-fast broadband – dubbed the new ‘communications infrastructure of the 21st Century’ – delivering ‘Korean level’ speeds of over 100Mps.

Additionally, the strategy advocates that the proposals in Lord Heseltine’s recent report on accelerating economic growth ‘No Stone Unturned’, be delivered by a commitment to large -scale, long-term capital devolution to the country’s Local Enterprise Partnerships.

Cllr Ray Puddifoot, deputy chairman of 51m, said: “To describe our challenge of HS2 as the battle for the British economy would not be overstating the case.

“It will be a sorry day for this nation if the government continues with this folly. To paraphrase, never in the history of the British economy could so much be paid by so many for the benefit of so few.”