According to recent YouGov polling, the public remain hostile to high-speed rail despite a belief that the introduction of HS2 and HS3 would have a positive impact on the North of England.
By 42% to 32%, the public oppose George Osborne’s proposals to link Leeds and Manchester with a new high speed rail link.
This comes despite the fact that the public generally think this new rail link would be positive for the North of England. 43% of Brits believe HS3 would be positive for the North with just 7% believing it would be negative.
As one would expect, opposition to this policy is less pronounced in the North of England – here, net opposition (support minus oppose) stands at just 2% compared with 12% in the South outside London, the Midlands and Wales and 26% in Scotland.
Full Speed Ahead?
There is, however, some evidence that HS3 is less controversial than plans to link London and the North with HS2. In April, YouGov asked the same questions as above for High Speed Two. Here, opposition stands at 48% with just 30% in favour whilst fewer respondents believe it would have a positive impact on the North of England (35%).
Since 2012, after initially supporting the proposals, the public have gradually lost faith in the Government’s high-speed rail plans.
By far the biggest jump in opposition, and decline in support, came following the upward revision of the cost of the project to £50bn. Following this announcement, the gap between support and opposition jumped from 10% to 27%.
This jump helps to illustrate a wider point about public concerns over spending commitments. Whilst the public generally believe high-speed rail will be beneficial to the North of England, concerns over costs appear to be driving opposition to the schemes.
This is unsurprising when we look at what the public believe are the most important issues facing the country. Of the thirteen issues included in this question, transport ranks at the bottom of the list, selected by just 2% of respondents.
It also ranks bottom for the most important issue facing respondents personally, selected by 7% of respondents.
|Issue||% saying important issue facing the country||% saying important issue facing them personally|
|Immigration & Asylum||56||19|
|Family life & childcare||5||11|
|None of these||1||5|
YouGov for The Sun, 23rd – 24th June 2014, n=1,984
Given the low issue salience of transport, it is perhaps indicative that the public are wary of spending large sums on high-speed rail links when money is tight, regardless of any perceived benefits it may bring.
Laurence Janta-Lipinski is Research Manager in the Political and Social Research team at YouGov and has appeared on Sky News, BBC News channel, BBC Radio 5 live as well as providing local election coverage for BBC Radio London.