The coalition government is forcing through plans to spend upwards of £45 billion on a new high speed railway (HS2) but bringing the country’s businesses access to super-fast broadband through fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) and fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) would be cheaper and far more financial beneficial to the country.
The way we conduct business is rapidly changing and will continue to change in the future. The only thing that we can predict for certain is that the fast interchange of data will be an essential feature of the digital age.
The need for face to face business meetings, and hence the need for superfast trains, will become less important in a world that is more dependent on digital conferencing and mobile computing devices.
By the time the first phase of HS2 becomes operational in 2026 it may well be now more than a quaint obsolescence.
Transport minister Patrick McLoughlin told the House of Commons that HS2 would be producing ‘around £50bn worth of economic benefits once it is up and running’ but even the National Audit Office disputes this figure.
The government’s calculations include £12.6 billion for time saved on business travel, but the NAO reports this ‘uses a simplifying assumption that time spent travelling is unproductive’. To this end, it would be more productive to simply provide faster broadband and more carriages on existing inter-city trains.
I just cannot accept that spending that amount of money on cutting a journey time from London to Birmingham by 20 minutes will have anything like the financial benefits that are claimed for HS2.
Superfast fibre-to-the-premises broadband would be of immense benefit to British business in the short term and would accelerate the development of new technology in the long term.
If this country is to see any benefit from HS2 we should be accelerating growth and employment in the new technology centres in the north of England. We should be planning to build the railway from north to south and not the other way round.