Despite the current government’s commitment to infrastructure spending, doubts remain about the viability of the multi-billion pound HS2 rail project, according to a leading property expert.
Tim Davies, head of South West and Wales at global real estate advisor Colliers International, believes that if HS2 is abandoned then the money saved should be diverted into improving infrastructure in areas such as isolated rural parts of the South West and Wales.
He says HS2 could be derailed by spiralling costs, and that the money earmarked for the project could then be spent on boosting road and rail networks in under-served areas such as west Somerset and north Devon, the Welsh Valleys and the far west of Wales.
Recently it emerged that the first phase of HS2, between London Euston and Birmingham, could be delayed by five years until 2031, with the projected cost soaring up to more than £80 billion.
Meanwhile completion of the full northern section of HS2, to Manchester and Leeds, is likely to be pushed back by seven years to 2040.
“The fact that last month, the Government announced that it was commissioning an independent review of HS2 indicated to many observers that the project is looking increasingly expensive and unviable,” says Tim Davies.
“Communities in isolated areas like west Somerset and north Devon have been ignored for decades when it comes to serious infrastructure spending. Roads like the A39 and A361 are not fit for purpose and this region also suffered particularly badly at the hands of Dr. Beeching’s review of the railways in the 1960s, which forced the closure of many small rural stations.
“The same applies to the South Wales Valleys and Pembrokeshire, which suffer due to their peculiar geography and relative isolation, and which also have inadequate road and rail links.
“If the Government wants to provide a post-Brexit shot in the arm to the economy UK-wide, it would be prudent to look at improving connectivity in rural areas.”
HS2 would create 345 miles of high-speed track, taking 50 minutes off the journey time between London and Manchester. A final Government decision on whether or not the project will proceed is expected before the end of the year.