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Expert says critical report highlights failure of HS1 to deliver economic benefit for Kent
A critical report on the sale of HS1, the high-speed rail line between London and the Channel Tunnel, has highlighted the failure of hopes that the line would promote regeneration in Kent, says University transport economics expert Professor Roger Vickerman.Commenting on the report from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, Professor Vickerman says: The Committee is critical of the failure to use the line effectively to promote regeneration and thus gain much needed wider economic impacts in Kent.
The Department for Transports response that it does not have responsibility for such decisions highlights a major failure of government in this respect, the lack of joined-up planning when spending large amounts of public money on infrastructure.
The headline which has been most seized on is the over-estimation of traffic in the initial decision to build the line, but as ever there is more in the detail of the report. Long-term forecasting of traffic is always problematic, the more so when it involves international journeys and what is essentially a new mode of transport in a market. And the evidence is that we are as likely to under-estimate as over-estimate. The Committee is particularly critical of the failure to take into account competitive response, including the growth of low-cost airlines, but this is a bit like criticising George Stephenson for failing to reckon on the invention of the internal combustion engine.
Perhaps the most significant point, however, is that this is another nail in the coffin of the belief that the private sector could efficiently and cost-effectively develop infrastructure with no cost to the public purse; much of the problem here goes back to how the key contracts were written. Governments worldwide have generally shown that they are not effective in preventing the private sector shifting any downside risk back onto the public purse.
Professor Vickerman is Professor of European Economics and Dean of the University's Brussels School of International Studies.
Story published at 11:48am 6 July 2012
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