UPDATED: Mandelson calls for HS2 U-turn

Lord Mandelson. Picture: Dominic Lipinski
Lord Mandelson. Picture: Dominic Lipinski
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Lord Mandelson has warned HS2 could be an ‘expensive mistake’, saying Labour only initially supported the project to win votes.

The former Labour business secretary said when proposing the idea his party failed to give proper attention to the ‘massive disruption’ construction would bring to many people.

HS2

HS2

Writing in the Financial Times, Lord Mandelson said politicians should not be afraid to think again about the project, the price-tag for which has just jumped by £10 billion to £42bn.

He said: “All the parties – especially Labour – should think twice before binding themselves irrevocably to HS2.

“It is not all it seems and has the potential to end up a mistake, damaging in particular to those people that it was intended to help.”

Lord Mandelson, chairman of Global Counsel, said HS2 should not been given an ‘open cheque’ and other options for infrastructure investment should be kept open.

He added that ‘the most glaring gap’ in the Labour government’s analysis was alternative ways of spending the money and that ambitious claims were made about the impact HS2 would have, assumptions which were ‘neither quantified nor proved’.

Lord Mandelson said: “We were on the eve of a general election and keen to paint an upbeat view of the future.

“Such publicly built infrastructure projects seemed to provide so much of the answer to our short and longer-term economic and employment needs.

“We did not imagine that the taxpayer would meet all of the costs; HS2 looked a sure candidate to attract private funds. This is now far from clear.

“But, in truth, this was about the limit of our collective cabinet consideration.

“We were focusing on the coming electoral battle, not on the detailed facts and figures of an investment that did not present us with any immediate spending choices.

“The vision was exciting, a lot of spadework had been done in the transport department and the cabinet adopted HS2 as a ‘national cause’, competing with the then Conservative leadership whose enthusiasm for the project had predated our own.”

A HS2 Ltd spokesman said: “Lord Mandelson does not call for HS2 to be cancelled.

“What he does is call for greater consensus for and stronger evidence of its benefits so that politicians and the public can make informed decisions as to its long term value to the UK.

“We must build on that consensus by providing up to date and detailed evidence of the benefits that HS2 will bring, including the creation of 100,000 jobs and the economic return of £2 for every £1 invested through linking eight out of our 10 biggest cities.

“However, we recognise the challenge that has been laid down and our need to respond.”