While the Conservative UK government is often vilified by the Welsh press for being woefully incompetent at considering or managing the needs of Wales, there is one thing it excels at. Amidst policy blunders, scandals, and the veritable circus acts of three separate premierships, the Conservative Party has successfully robbed Welsh taxpayers of around £5bn via HS2 without a whiff of opposition from the Welsh Labour, Conservative, or Liberal Democrat parties.
The Conservatives distract us by attacking asylum seekers and benefits claimants, ignoring the climate crisis, commandeering fake culture wars, and dismissing the very essence of sovereignty across this unequal union. Meanwhile, they’re making off with a stash that, if spent for the benefit of Wales, could fully fund every Welsh government welfare scheme for the next decade and beyond.
Spades in the ground
The name given to this theft is High Speed Two (HS2), a planned high-speed railway line in England that’s said to have three phases, one of which is currently in production. There has been talk about scaling back the length and therefore destinations of HS2.
Reversals aside, HS2 was sold to Westminster as a ‘Wales and England’ project. Presumably so that merely uttering the word ‘Wales’ would suffice as pretext for plundering the Welsh electorate. That being said, It would be unfair of me to claim that HS2 won’t benefit Wales without providing evidence, so let’s take a gander.
Taking into account only the phase that’s currently and actively being worked on, the closest HS2 terminal to Wales would be around 51 miles from it. For clarity, that’s 51 miles from the very border of Wales. If you’re looking at towns and cities, you can double or triple that. Not a single sliver of HS2 track will be located in Wales.
So with the nearest terminal to Wales hundreds of miles away and no track actually located in Wales, how is this an ‘England and Wales’ project? But wait, I hear you say, what about Phase 2? Is it possible that would benefit Wales?
Delays and cancellations
The short answer is no, but let’s go with a longer one. Phase 2 was supposed to connect Birmingham with Manchester, and was also intended to connect to Leeds, though this has since been cancelled. With the addition of a terminal in Manchester – now itself in question thanks to a question-dodging Prime Minister – the closest terminal to the Welsh border would become 39 miles away. [Edit: it’s been confirmed today: no HS2 for Manchester either]. Again, likely still a long way from populated areas. And, again, not one track would be laid in Wales.
Let’s take stock, then. No track in Wales, no stations in Wales, no physical connections with Wales whatsoever. On top of all of this, HS2 Ltd boss Mark Thurston has recently announced his resignation, following talk that the project is likely to see yet more cuts and delays.
This is but one outrage in a broader picture of injustice and inequity. As rail expert and consultant Professor Mark Barry has said, “You can’t level up with words or hand waving rhetoric … and a 200:1 ratio between UK government rail investment (which is non-devolved) in England v Wales is a constitutional outrage.” 200:1!
Northern Ireland and Scotland received a full Barnett formula payment in respect of the HS2 project. If Wales got this, it would provide around £5bn of investment in Welsh railways. But Welsh Affairs Committee calls to re-classify HS2 as an England-only project were rejected by the UK government.
The HS2 heist: daylight train robbery
If that wasn’t bad enough, according to Jonathan Edwards, Plaid Cymru MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr: “By attracting businesses and investment away from Wales, it is estimated that HS2 will cost Cardiff alone £67.95mn and areas as west as Carmarthenshire approximately £12.14mn per annum.”
It should be clear to everyone at this point that the designation of this project as ‘England and Wales’ is gross incompetence at best or an opportunistic raid on Welsh taxpayers at worst. And the most insidious thing about it is that the UK government may well slink away free of any repercussions.
There have been calls from Plaid Cymru and the Green Party to halt the plans, and the Senedd has supported a motion calling for the project to be designated accurately. But it seems likely that the UK government will remain content to ignore the Senedd.
The calls for fair funding for Wales as a result of HS2 resonates strongly, and Welsh taxpayers deserve a thorough examination of its implications on their welfare and their country. Will Westminster heed these calls, or make a clean getaway? Given the amount it robs from Welsh rail investment overall, it will likely avoid the topic altogether. It won’t even pretend to offer us spades in the ground.