The announcement today of the proposed route for the second phase of a high speed railway out of London beyond Birmingham to Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds should be read in future as a textbook case as to why politics needs to be removed from transport policy. It is, encapsulated in a tidy package and £33 billion of money that will have to be borrowed from future generations, an almost perfect example of a political "boondoggle" as they are known in the United States.
Almost all of the claims made about this project are dubious. It wont deliver economic nirvana to the areas it serves, it wont generate economic benefits above the costs of building it, and it is highly unlikely to regenerate more than a handful of small areas. What it will be is a massive transfer of wealth from future taxpayers across the UK to a handful of construction companies, engineering consultancies, property developers and finally the relatively small numbers of people who will use the railway.
What is worse is that the Government portrays opposition to the project as being solely about people living along the line who will be affected by its construction and the noise, intrusion of a new railways through their properties. NIMBY is a term used by anyone who wants to demean the interests of private property owners who don't want their property taken for someone else's purpose. These NIMBYs wont stop the project.
However, the real opposition to the project is the shoddy business case. You can always buy off NIMBYs with compensation and new routes (after all, it's just about borrowing more money from voters who haven't been born yet, so can't punish you for wasting their money). It is harder to argue economics, especially when so few Ministers are able to tackle officials and lobbyists on the big issues, and when it is seen as being politically positive.
The opposition itself, the Labour Party, doesn't make that argument, because it simply can't, as it started the project in the first place.
Besides, HS2 is a symptom of a wider problem. The belief that politicians are able to make these strategic infrastructure decisions wisely. Given the UK's history at failing to do so, you'd think they might learn. Concorde, as beautiful and technically magnificent as it was, was an economic disaster and left no sustainable legacy for its monumental expense. Indeed, the UK's entire commercial airliner manufacturing sector was largely decimated by inflexibility and state demands that it provide bespoke aircraft for the UK's then state owned airlines BEA and BOAC.
So why is HS2 wrong?