M y experience has taught me that the hardest thing in politics is to say you have changed your mind. Politicians instinctively hate u-turns as they denote fallibility and, they think, weakness. But reversals can be a sign of strength and courage. I once supported High Speed 2, a proposed rail link from London to the north which the Labour government of which I was a member first put forward. There are no simple options when it comes to transport – but I now fear HS2 could be an expensive mistake.
In any decision of the magnitude of HS2, understanding of the costs and benefits involved will evolve. Politicians should not be afraid to think again about a project whose estimated cost has just risen again by a quarter, to £42.6bn. In 2010, when the then Labour government decided to back HS2, we did so based on the best estimates of what it would involve. But these were almost entirely speculative. The decision was also partly politically driven. In addition to the projected cost, we gave insufficient attention to the massive disruption to many people’s lives construction would bring. Why? Not because we were indifferent but because we believed the national interest required such bold commitment to modernisation. Continue reading »