As construction of the London terminus of the High Speed 2 (HS2) railway project begins, the controversy surrounding the project continues. The development of HS2, the first stage of which is due to be completed in 2028-2031, has faced an increasing number of protests, including a 100-foot tunnel dug at Euston Station. The latest research from Redfield & Wilton Strategies finds that HS2 remains unpopular with the British public, with almost half of those who are aware of the project saying it should be scrapped.
Overall, 81% of the British public is aware of HS2, including 57% who say they are moderately or very aware. Awareness is high across all regions of England, with the greatest proportion of respondents saying they are moderately or very aware in London (63%) and the West Midlands (73%)—the two locations where the first HS2 stations will be built.
Younger respondents are relatively less aware of HS2, with 32% of 18-to-24-year-olds and 28% of 25-to-34-year-olds saying they are not at all aware of the project. In contrast, those aged 55 to 64 (27%) and 65 and over (27%) are most likely to be very familiar with the project, with only 8% of respondents aged 65 and over being completely unaware of HS2.
Amidst this considerable awareness of the project, there is substantial opposition to it: a plurality (43%) of Britons aware of HS2 say they oppose it, compared to 29% who support HS2 and 25% who neither support nor oppose it. In April and May 2021, we found a similar 45% of those in the West Midlands metropolitan area who said they were familiar with HS2 were in opposition to the railway project.
Interestingly, those who voted Conservative or Labour in the 2019 General Election express similar levels of opposition to HS2, with 44% of Conservative voters and 43% of Labour voters saying they oppose the project—including 25% and 23%, respectively, who strongly oppose it.
Furthermore, a majority (56%) of Britons aware of HS2 say that it is a bad investment that does not represent good value for money, whereas a quarter (25%) believe it is a good investment and 18% are unsure. Following such statements, 48% of this sample think that HS2 should be scrapped and 33% think that it should not be scrapped, while 19% do not know. This demonstrates that opposition to HS2 is strong, with a plurality of Britons preferring to see HS2 scrapped than its continued development.
London and the West Midlands are set to be the regions most impacted by the project, as the first phase will be a direct line connecting London to Birmingham. There are interesting variances in these regions’ support for HS2: in London, a plurality (44%) support HS2, whereas a plurality (46%) in the West Midlands oppose the project. This in an increase of 9% since our May 2021 poll, which found that 37% of West Midlands respondents opposed HS2. Interestingly, an April 2021 poll of the West Midlands metropolitan area found that 42% of residents supported HS2.
A majority of West Midlands respondents (63%) see HS2 as a bad investment, with 51% responding that it should be scrapped. Interestingly, despite the relatively high levels of support for HS2 in London, the majority of respondents (54%) also believe that HS2 is a bad investment that does not represent value for money, and 46% believe that HS2 should be scrapped. These variances in regional support and mixed responses from London respondents show that public opinion on the HS2 project is not uniform and may change as construction continues.
Regionally, opposition is highest in Scotland, where a majority (51%) oppose the project, as do a plurality (47%) of Welsh respondents. Currently, the HS2 railway is not set to serve any Welsh cities and HS2 trains will serve key existing Scottish stations, rather than see any new development, with services terminating at Glasgow. This lack of investment within Scotland and Wales could therefore explain the higher levels of opposition. Similarly, opposition for the project is high at 46% in the South East, another region that is not set to benefit directly from HS2 services.
Age continues to be a key marker of support for HS2. Despite being less aware of HS2 overall, younger respondents who are aware of the project are the most likely to support it. Of those aged 25 to 34, 49% support HS2, along with 45% of 18-to-24-year-olds. Further, a plurality of those aged 18 to 24 (41%) and 25 to 34 (42%) agree that HS2 is a good investment, and only 22% and 29%, respectively, believe that HS2 should be scrapped. In contrast, 63% of respondents aged 65 and over oppose the development of HS2, 77% think HS2 is a bad investment, and 65% agree that it should be scrapped. These contrasting results may be due to the higher perceived benefits of high-speed travel to and from London for younger people.
Ultimately, it appears that the British public in large part remains opposed to the HS2 railway project. A plurality of Britons oppose the continuation of the development, instead responding that the project should be scrapped. Consistent levels of public opposition—among both 2019 Conservative and Labour voters—suggest that the HS2 project is likely to continue to face public protests, despite steadfast Government support.