HS2 appears increasingly unpopular with Labour and Conservative voters as overall support for the project heads into negative territory
The government has defended HS2 as ‘vitally important for [Britain’s] economic growth’ after Lord Mandelson warned on Monday that he feared the project – the estimated cost of which rose by £10 billion to £42.6 billion in the last week – could be an ‘expensive mistake’. The warning marks a turnaround for the Labour peer, who backed the proposed high speed rail link from London to Birmingham when his party was in government.
The first YouGov poll conducted after Lord Mandelson espressed his concerns about HS2 reveals that the percentage of the public that supports the project is down 7 points to 34% and opposition is up 3 points since late January, when the public was about split. At 46%, those who oppose the project are now nearing half of all voters, and outnumber those who support it by 12 points.
The shift in support appears to be part of a trend towards opposition to HS2: in January 2012 Britons supported the then-estimated £32 billion rail link proposal on balance, by 42%-37%.
A look at net support (the percentage who support it minus the percentage who oppose it) for HS2 over the same period broken down by party seems to shows that the decline in support overall is driven in a large part by the movement of Labour voters into the “oppose” column, and also by a recent apparent softening of support among Conservatives, whose net support for HS2 was 21% in January of this year and is now only 10%.
The shift among Labour and Conservative voters has outweighed a surge in support among Lib Dem voters, whose party has given their wholehearted support to the HS2 proposal.
In the July 3-4 poll UKIP supporters were the voting group most dismissive of HS2, with 66% opposed and only 25% supportive.
The Coalition government has increasingly taken on the mantle of the rail project, which was initially proposed under Labour and reviewed when the Coalition came to power in 2010. In January, when the HS2’s route was unveiled, Cameron argued that the rail link between the midlands and London would provide a “vital” boost for the British economy. In response to Mandelson’s criticism of HS2, Lib Dem transport minister Norman Baker said, “unlike Peter Mandelson we can’t all hop on a private jet”.
The first phase of the project will connect London to Birmingham, while Phase 2 of the HS2 plans would connect Birmingham via high speed rail to Manchester and to Sheffield and Leeds. Other proposals would extend the link even further, to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Newcastle.