Let's get serious about new infrastructure

Here’s a question.  By how much would HS2 cut journey times between London and Manchester?

Most people are sure they know the answer and say “not much”.  But they’re wrong: the current journey time of around 2 hours will be halved to 1 hour.

The myth that HS2 won’t reduce travel times is doubtless one of the reasons why there’s some opposition to the project.

Another, of course, is cost.  It’s undoubtedly a hugely expensive scheme.  But with rail capacity at its limit already, a large proportion of this money would have to be spent to increase capacity on a north-south route anyway.  There’s a strong case to invest in higher speeds at the same time.

Some constituents have forwarded me a campaign e-mail saying that the scheme should be cancelled on environmental grounds.  It’s funny, but I thought green campaigners preferred rail over road or air.  Apparently not.

I’ve long campaigned on environmental issues, and am passionate about protecting the countryside, but I’m beginning to wonder if we will ever build much-needed infrastructure in this country if we allow green arguments to be taken to extremes.

A proper ‘offline’ Arundel bypass would massively reduce traffic through the South Downs National Park, barely touching the Park itself, compared to the current route which runs right through it.

Yet the National Park Authority have opposed it.  Yes, that’s right - those responsible for the Park rejected a relief road which would take traffic away from it.

This is common sense turned on its head.  And it’s not cost-free.

The discovery of bats at one end of the bypass route has meant that bridges which were to cost £500,000 each will now cost ten times this amount, £5 million each, to be bat-friendly.  This and other so-called green measures have massively inflated the costs of the scheme.

I’ve just returned from Japan when I once again took a superb ‘Shinkansen’ bullet train.  Not content with these, they’re now building an even faster Maglev line which will connect Tokyo and Nagoya in just 40 minutes at speeds over over 300mph.

One reason why Japan is wealthier than us, with higher productivity, is the quality of its infrastructure.  If we want better living standards in future, and more resources which we’ll need to protect the environment, we’ve got to get serious about delivering infrastructure in this country.