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Influential Tory thinktank tells Cameron to scrap ‘London-centric’ HS2

Influential Tory thinktank tells Cameron to scrap ‘London-centric’ HS2

🕔02.Sep 2014

David Cameron is under fresh pressure to scrap HS2, this time from within his own party.

The influential Conservative Home website has described the high speed rail link between Euston, Birmingham and the north as “yet another London-centric mega project” which won’t even get to Manchester and Leeds until the 2030s.

The blog, which has a growing reputation as an independent and outspoken policy thinktank within the Conservative party, says the estimated £43 billion cost of the first and second phase of HS2 would be better spent by creating a Northern Infrastructure Fund under the direct control of elected mayors from northern cities and city regions.

The proposal is contained in Conservative Home’s General Election manifesto alongside nine other policy changes which the authors claim amounts to reforms to benefit “ordinary working people”.

High among Conservative Home’s list of demands is a tougher immigration policy with Britain “regaining full control of its borders from the EU” and the introduction of a points system for new entrants based on skills which would replace the current quota for immigrants.

New migrants would be required to purchase their own health and welfare insurance cover – and access to public services would have to be earned.

Scrapping HS2 would certainly appeal to a number of Tory backbenchers representing constituencies along the planned line who have been involved in a dogged fight against the plan since 2010. It would also bring the Conservatives into line with Ukip, long-time opponents of high speed rail.

Although the coalition government is committed to building HS2, and has in-principle support from Labour, a final decision to start building the first phase from London to Birmingham will not be taken until after next year’s General Election.

Construction of the first phase to Birmingham Airport/NEC and on into Birmingham city centre is due to start in 2017, but whether the project actually goes ahead is likely to depend on the latest cost estimates. A recent study by the Institute of Economic Affairs put the bill for HS2 at £80 billion, almost twice as much as the Department for Transport’s estimate.

It seems unlikely that Mr Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne will agree to the Conservative Home plan. Both have been outspoken in their support for HS2, with Mr Osborne insisting that high speed rail will help to regenerate city economies in the north of England, where his own constituency can be found.

Other proposals in the Conservative Home manifesto include:

Homes: Britain needs better, more affordable homes. A building boom that sucks in cheap money looking for a quick return will not deliver affordability. We must therefore freeze out the property speculators with an ownership first condition on the development of new housing. Councils would be given the power to reserve the sale of new homes to those intending to live in them.

New Garden Cities for the 21st century:  The piecemeal approach to building new homes has failed. We need a vision for the development of strategically located areas like the Thames Estuary. Therefore we propose the creation of Garden City Corporations, empowered to clear the obstacles to large-scale regeneration. Existing residents would have a direct financial stake through the allocation of shares in each corporation – and the closer the impact of new development, the more shares they’d get.

National Insurance: To boost job creation and the earning power of ordinary working people, we would make NICs our top tax-cutting priority. We would begin by eliminating employee and employer contributions for all under-25s on the minimum wage – extending the tax cut up the age range and income scale as resources allow.

Devolution: We propose devolved national governments for England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland – each with its own First Minister. The English Government and First Minister would be chosen by MPs for English constituencies.

Democracy: Merely electing our MPs and councillors every four or five years and hoping for the best is not good enough. There should be a genuine right of recall. Work should begin on the introduction of electronic voting.

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