A Birmingham reader on holiday in Devon takes time off to draw our attention to an article by Liam Halligan, who has a remarkably wide wealth of business experience. Is he remembering the council’s February commitment to the Birmingham Curzon HS2 Masterplan and the planned £50m extension of the Midland Metro, to pass through Curzon Street HS2 Station?

State and local governments want showcase projects and councillors and ministers want “legacies” . . .

The message: the Coalition is delivering on infrastructure

The message: the Coalition is delivering on infrastructure

Last week, George Osborne, David Cameron and government ministers were photographed inspecting building projects across the country, wearing hard hats and high-visibility jackets. The message: the Coalition is delivering on infrastructure.

The Treasury has published an updated list of over 200 major projects to be completed or started in 2014-15 – infrastructure spending will be £36bn this year, according to Downing Street, up from £15bn in 2013. But since 2010 the national debt has risen from £800bn to over £1,200bn. Government is still borrowing £100bn-plus annually, as it has for five successive years.

overcrowding on trains

Halligan’s view on the HS2 proposal: “What desperately needs addressing isn’t inter-city speed, but massive overcrowding on local commuter lines — not only into London, but Birmingham, Leeds, and Manchester too, where passenger numbers have grown faster than those into and out of the capital.

He advocates placing a greater emphasis on cross-country train services. Instead of spending £80bn-plus on the London-Birmingham leg of HS2, there should be investment in the two lines that already run between the two cities. Rather than a marginally quicker service from London to Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield – the cost of which will limit its use largely to business travellers –a world-class and more frequent inter-city links between the great northern cities is needed.

birmingham city council header

The state of Birmingham’s municipal finances is also said to be parlous: the latest council audit records a £3.25 billion debt, with interest payments costing the taxpayers £165 million a year.

If HS2 – “an important catalyst for this ongoing development and regeneration activity” – is not built and does not fund Curzon St Station, as presented at the MIPIM property conference in Cannes, will the millions spent regenerate the area – or will they have been wasted?

The last word from Halligan could be applied to this city council: “The UK’s public finances remain in a critical state. Now is the time for cost-effective solutions to genuine problems, not grand vanity projects”