£56 billion. It’s an unimaginable amount of money. Yet this is the sum that the government says is currently needed to propel our transport system into the future - by building High Speed 2, a 250 mph railway linking some of the UK’s major cities - London, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester. It will cut journey times: London to Birmingham in under 50 minutes; London to Manchester in an hour and eight minutes.

But in an exclusive survey for the Tonight programme, less than 20% of respondents thought they would use HS2 when built, and only one in ten people thought the high speed rail link would benefit the majority of commuters. Additionally, people felt it was mainly a project for London - with only a third of people feeling that HS2 will benefit the north.

The other results of our survey of 2,000 people were as follows:

  • 23% not aware that HS2 is being planned

  • 15% feel that HS2 is worth £56bn

  • 58% don't think it's a price worth paying

  • 77% of people would prefer that the money was spent in other areas, like the NHS

  • Nearly three-quarters of people thought HS2 would lead to price rises for train tickets

  • 7% would be prepared to pay increased prices for the high speed line

  • 80% said they felt sympathy for people who may lose their homes to HS2, even though they may be compensated

Jonny Maitland met those in favour of the scheme, including young engineering students in Birmingham excited at the prospect of jobs and investment.

HS2 Chairman Sir David Higgins says it will transform the UK.

There’s no other major infrastructure planned in the next thirty years in this country that will do what HS2 does.”

Sir David Higgins

Also featured in the programme are those whose lives, homes and businesses may be affected - even destroyed - by HS2, like Becky Quartermaine. Only eight weeks after she moved into her dream home on the brand new Shimmer Estate in Mexborough, South Yorkshire, Becky received a letter saying that HS2 would potentially need some, or all of her land. Becky’s house could be demolished, along with around 200 houses on the estate.

Becky Quartermaine - her home is earmarked for potential demolition Credit: ITV / Tonight
The HS2 route will cut through swathes of countryside like this Credit: ITV / Tonight

The debate about HS2 is set to continue. The House of Lords is currently looking at the bill for Phase 1, with final approval expected in December. Phase 2 will be subject to consultations before being put to Parliament.

Until then communities like those in Mexborough will continue to fight to have their homes saved from the bulldozer.

High-Speed Rail: Is It Worth It? is on ITV at 7.30pm and on The ITV Hub shortly afterwards. Let us know your thoughts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using #ITVTonight.

Useful Links:

HS2 - this government site contains proposed route maps, information and news about HS2

Lords Select Committee - information on the passage of Phase 1 of HS2

HS1 - the UK’s original high speed line

Woodland Trust

HS2: The Case for A Review - report by Professor Anthony May, Emeritus Professor of Transport at the University of Leeds