I have often reflected on that journey as the debate over Britain’s second high speed rail line (the first being forced by France on a reluctant Thatcher whose insistence that it didn’t cost the taxpayer ruined hundreds of modest shareholders who ended up paying for it). News that the first phase (London to Brirmingham) of HS2 will go ahead has been met with threats of legal action. A public consultation showed respondents questioning the expense vs investment in the regular network, disruption to communities along the route, and environmental concerns.
If any country needs better connection to relieve pressure on an over-crowded capital suffering from a lack of housing, it is Britain. In France you can get from Marseille in the south to Paris in around three hours, allowing people who might like to live in the south of France, where there is a lack of jobs, the possibility to do so and still meet clients even for a breakfast meeting. It binds the country together and not only distributes the fruits of economic growth, but creates new growth possibilities through better connectivity. And France is hoping to build on its fast train network by connecting it to other countries and cement its geographical position as the centre of Europe. Poorly connected places on the periphery will be disadvantaged.
During the masters I just completed, I had cause to mull British and French attitudes. I think the difference lies in culture (less trusting of government), geography (crowded island, centralist government) and stingyness of compensation, and a short-termist attitude. Poor connectivity and infrastructure is one of the reasons cited by foreign investors for NOT putting their money into Britain. As the economic crisis bites, investors looking for safety are even less likely to look outside London. Even more reason to connect London to the rest of the country that as a capital it is supposed to serve. Budget considerations are clearly important at the current time, but we also need a long term strategy for our infrastructure needs that allows for balanced economic growth across the country, and not just harnessed to the south.