The U.K. Institute of Directors called on the government to abandon plans for a high-speed rail line linking London to northern England, arguing it is too expensive.
The 50 billion pounds ($78 billion) project, known as HS2, will cut journey times and increase capacity on existing lines for freight. It split the opposition Labour Party last week, with leader Ed Miliband and transport spokeswoman Maria Eagle supporting it while treasury spokesman Ed Balls raised doubts. The government said it remained committed to the plan.
“Businesses up and down the country know value for money when they see it, and our research shows that they don’t see it in the government’s case for HS2,” Simon Walker, Director General of the Institute of Directors, said in an e-mailed statement today. “There appears to be little enthusiasm amongst IoD members, not even in the regions where the benefits are supposed to be strongest. Indeed, our research shows that almost every region expects London to benefit the most.”
The IoD speaks for 38,000 business directors in the U.K. It asked members to take part in an online poll Aug. 1-11, and 1,323 responded. Of those, 27 percent said HS2 represented good value for money, while 50 percent said it was poor value.
Members of the Labour Party, which while in government drew up the original plans for HS2, have been turning against it in recent months. Both former Business Secretary Peter Mandelson and former Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling have criticized the plan.
On Aug. 24, former Transport Secretary Andrew Adonis, who is now advising Miliband on economic policy, hit back, warning that it would be an “act of national self-mutilation” if the party were to cancel the project if it wins the 2015 election.
HS2 is unpopular among people who live on the route, which passes through Conservative-supporting rural districts. To try to allay concern, more than half the 140 miles (225 kilometers) of the first leg, from London to Birmingham, will be in cuttings or tunnels.
The government intends to introduce legislation supporting HS2 by the end of 2013, with a plan for it to be passed by Parliament by 2015. Construction would then begin in 2017, with the line to Birmingham opening in 2026. After Birmingham the line will split, with tracks going to Manchester and Leeds. These sections wouldn’t open until 2033.