07:19 GMT18 January 2021
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    In a Tuesday announcement, London confirmed that it will approve a controversial and long-delayed High Speed 2 (HS2) rail project. UK PM Boris Johnson dropped a clear hint last month that he would push ahead with the transport scheme, despite a report from a public spending watchdog finding that HS2 was "over budget and behind schedule".

    Looking at the implications of the project, Sputnik spoke to political economist Dr. Richard Wellings.

    Sputnik: How significant is it that the government is pushing ahead with HS2 despite it taking so long and costs spiralling into the billions?

    Dr Richard Wellings: This is an absolute disaster for UK transport policy because of course HS2 is going to consume a vast amount of resources over the next 20 years and it's going to starve other much more worthwhile projects of investment. It's really a disaster, a dreadful decision that defies economic logic.

    Sputnik: Boris Johnson’s refusal to scrap the project is a bold statement for his government, his party and the country. Could we see a backlash from ministers and colleagues within the Conservative party and, if so, what would this look like?

    Dr Richard Wellings: I think a lot of Conservative MPs are deeply unhappy with HS2 - they realised that it's a terrible value for money but the problem is that in the overall scheme of things in terms of overall government spending, it's relatively 'small beer' so we're looking at maybe 5 billion a year out of total government spending of more like 100 billion a year. I don't think anyone's going to sacrifice that career over this.

    Sputnik: Taking into account the political and economic cost of this project down the line, is Johnson's decision the  right one? Should HS2 go ahead or should it be scrapped?

    Dr Richard Wellings: I think it should be scrapped but unfortunately this is all about the politics and obviously there are very powerful special interests that are backing HS2. I think given the Tories recent support in the north of England during the last general election, they didn't want to become hostages to criticism from Northern opposition politicians who would have used scrapping HS2 against them and say 'well they don't really care about the notice to scrub this project'.

    Clearly there are a lot of very powerful corporate interests that stand to make huge amounts of money from HS2, they have also been lobbying very hard for this - so they're in a very difficult situation.

    I think a compromised position would have been to descope the project and try to cut costs for example by cancelling the terminus at Euston but they seem to have done that, which is disappointing. They may well reduce the top speed and that might save a few percent on the budget but it's really a relatively small amount when we're talking about over 100 billion pounds.

    The problem is that Boris Johnson has a terrible record on transport policy. I mean, look at his record as London mayor, when he advocated that 70 to 90-billion pound 'Boris Island', which was a truly ridiculous idea.

    He is also dreadful on the roads policy, with this vast network of cycle lanes, which has caused massive congestion in London; but he does like these big projects. I mean, he's been talking about the bridge to Ireland, which will be another disaster in terms of his finances and economics, so I think this is just part of his character, unfortunately.


    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    railway, Boris Johnson, transport, U.K
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