HS2 - forget the pain, think of the gain

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Friday, January 6 2012

Hooray for the business people who have called for the HS2 to go ahead.

At long last, a real-world case is made for a project that would - albeit belatedly - put the UK on the right track in the new era of international high-speed rail travel.

We know all too well in Kent about the disruption and damage that construction causes. It was horrible while it lasted. There were ugly scars on the landscape.

But engineers did a great job. The wounds have healed. For all the protests about HS1 many years ago - similar to those we hear along the proposed HS2 - Kent now has a superb high-speed service, even though some of the advantages have come at the expense of old-style train performance.

Okay, fares are high but increased prosperity brings more wealth.

High-speed rail is slowly transforming the economy, with house prices leaping in towns like Ashford, Gravesend and Folkestone which are well plugged into the service.

It’s not just about people travelling to London, it also encourages people to commute into Kent, adding to the county’s skill base.

The same scenario will apply to Thanet when Manston, for example, has a Parkway station and journey times to London fall to an hour.

As for the feared landscape damage, few people now complain about the environmental impact of high-speed trains. It now blends into the landscape.

Initial Kent protests succeeded, forcing the then Government to abandon the initial route through South Darenth in favour of a northerly route. But thank goodness the principle of high-speed to the Continent was retained.

No doubt there were protests from residents between Settle and Carlisle about a “damaging” new line in Victorian times, but it is now cherished as a scenic and engineering wonder.

HS2 to Birmingham and beyond promises economic growth on the back of faster journey times.  It should help bridge the widening North-South divide.

The Chilterns are a precious asset but skilful - and no expense spared - engineering can mitigate the impact.

The French have led the way on Les Grands Projets while the UK is usually late into the big idea, frightened off by cost or public protest.

HS2 is a bold initiative that should be welcomed. OK, there will be pain, and plenty of fury from affected locals. But as we have found in Kent, both are temporary. The longer-term economic gain for the UK will be immense – and it should not be just business people who can see this light at the end of the tunnel.

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Categories: HS-1 | Regeneration | Thames Gateway | Transport

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