In the not too distant past, I found myself on a flight to Berlin. The plane landed at Schönefeld airport, taxied to its terminal before a few hundred excitable Brits flowed briskly onto German soil. Predictably, the airport was orderly and well signposted, so within a matter of minutes, I arrived at the border, was greeted with a stern ‘Willkommen’ by a slightly disgruntled official and commanded to move along with a Tinder-ish swipe of the fingers. It was all eerily German.
What was less German, however was the airport, or rather the lack of airport. In 2006, the German government commissioned a new hub which would be built in the city’s periphery so as to straddle the border between the states of Berlin and Brandenburg – engineers, never a creative bunch, ultimately named it the Berlin-Brandenburg Airport. It was set to open in 2011 and would welcome tens of millions of passengers to the capital as it began to transition from a page in Cold War textbooks to a vibrant tourist hotspot for families, stag nights and history boffins alike. From the outside, five years seemed reasonable: an airport is just a massive flat thing with a few buildings scattered around, probably integrated into the national and city-wide public transport network by a railway of sorts. Seemingly though, building airports is much harder. Three times harder, no less.
Government spokespeople declared on ten separate occasions that the opening date would be missed, with current estimates pointing to 2021 as the year in which the new airport will finally be christened. The entire project has been plagued by vandalism, under-resourcing and corruption, even demanding countless revisions to the original plan over fears the delays were so lengthy that it would require immediate expansion upon opening to cope with constantly increasing passenger numbers. We tend to honour Germany for its astonishing attention to detail and the efficiency with which things are conducted, so how, we may shout with vociferous perplexity, can the nation which gave us the automobile, the Petri dish, Siemens fridges, recyclable paper, quantum mechanics, electrostatic generation and underwater rugby be defeated by a flat slab of concrete?
To this charge, I can give only one answer: Germany may be scratching its head over an aviation hub, but in this country, we are still – yes, still – debating whether to build HS2. High Speed 2 is, of course, the proposed rail connection to bind London with Birmingham and Leeds via a new high-speed service due for completion in the mid-2030s and it is, without intending to be too critical, a colossally moronic manifestation of state-sponsored vanity. Proponents have convinced themselves it would delight business by finally flicking the switch on the so-called Northern Powerhouse. Sceptics refute this by rightly asking if residents of Notting Hill will consider Sheffield as an alternative shopping venue to the Westfield just because the journey time is cut by twenty minutes.
Since its conception, the railway has been a means of transporting people to places they would otherwise be unable to reach. So, what, then, is HS2? Yes, by virtue of being a railway it will transport people, but only those who arrive at the station in a BMW M3, adorned with glossy Savile Row tailored business suits in which they house the latest generation of iPhone. Far from being a tool to open the doors of long-distance travel to the masses, HS2 will serve exclusively to propel socio-economic group A folk from their suburban Midlands abodes into London more quickly. And the price for this all this self-indulgence? Sixty million pounds (which we all know means well over £100 million after all the usual delays, debate and discussion over the impact of the line on some rare species of newt.)
In supporting HS2, then, we would be entrenching the very image our party has sought to brush off. Contrary to what proponents argue, HS2 would only enhance the London-centricity of the British economy, whilst neglecting the opportunity to invest in countless more standard rail links in Scotland and the North which would genuinely improve the mobility and living standards of those who have been left behind for a generation. Furthermore, whilst High Speed trains function wonderfully in Japan or China where the distances to be covered are vast, Britain is simply too small to realise the gains that 200mph trains could deliver.
Even so, HS2’s fatal weakness remains that of equity: our tax should not be spent to make the lives of the elite even more comfortable than it already is, especially when mile upon mile of railway in the North of England is blatantly unfit for modern demands. For decades, London has prospered on the back of investment in its public transport – Londoners move around in greater numbers, more often, and more quickly than ever before. Now, we must donate to the rest of the country what London has enjoyed, thus making true steps to shift the centre of gravity outside the M25. HS2 is too expensive, too London-y and too wasteful to go ahead, so before it spawns into a laughingstock of Berlin airport proportions, I urge we stop it dead in its tracks.
George Wright (Political Officer, Ex-Secretary, Former Deputy Returning Officer, Ex-Treasurer, Ex-Whip, Ex-Committee Member, St John’s College) is an undergraduate in his second year of studying Philosophy, Politics, and Economics.