Plurality of Britons Aware of HS2 Think HS2 Will, On the Whole, Be a Bad Thing for the Environment

May 23, 2021
R&WS Research Team
Environment
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The first phase of High Speed 2 development—a high speed link between Birmingham and London—is scheduled to be completed at the end of 2026, with links to other destinations to follow. Some have argued that HS2 will provide a more energy efficient train network as it will primarily rely on renewable energy sources and will play a vital role in helping the UK reach its net zero carbon goal. However, the project inevitably requires development across more rural areas of the UK, and some have argued that the environmental destruction this project will lead to in some regions of the country is a price not worth paying for faster railway links.

Overall, we find that the majority (60%) of the British public is familiar with High Speed 2 (HS2), echoing results from the West Midlands last month where 64% of respondents said they were familiar with HS2.

Younger people are significantly less likely to be familiar with High Speed 2, with only a third (34%) of 18-to-24-year-olds saying they are familiar with HS2 compared to 77% of both 55-to-64-year-olds and those 65 and over. 

Among those who are familiar with High Speed 2, 45% oppose the project, while 27% support it and a further 27% neither support nor oppose. By contrast, in the West Midlands metropolitan area, a plurality (42%) support HS2 and only 28% oppose the project. These contrasting results may be a consequence of the varying impact the project will have regionally; HS2 may prove popular in the West Midlands, as Birmingham will directly benefit from the project.

Nationally, pluralities of both 2019 Conservative voters (41%) and 2019 Labour voters (44%) oppose High Speed 2.

While younger people are less likely to be familiar with HS2, those that are familiar with it are significantly more supportive of the project than older voters. Pluralities of 18-to-24-year-olds (46%), 25-to-34-year-olds (42%) and 35-to-44-year-olds (37%) support HS2, while majorities of 55-to-64-year-olds (57%) and those 65 and over (57%) oppose HS2.

Only 22% say they think the HS2 project will, on the whole, be a good thing for the environment, and a plurality (44%) think it will be a bad thing. A fifth (18%) think it will be neither a good nor bad thing, and 16% say they don’t know.

Despite being significantly more supportive of HS2, younger people are divided on whether it will be, on the whole, a good or bad thing for the environment, with 35% of 18-to-24-year-olds saying it will be a good thing and 34% saying it will be a bad thing. Therefore, support for HS2 among younger age groups may not necessarily be driven by environmentalism. By contrast, just 16% of 55-to-64-year-olds and 17% of those 65 and over think HS2 will be a good thing for the environment.

Indeed, the vast majority of respondents (65%) approve of the notion that conserving natural areas in the UK should be given priority, even if it blocks major housing and infrastructure projects, while just 6% disapprove. 22% neither approve nor disapprove of the notion, and 6% say they don’t know. 

It must be noted that there are some respondents approving of this statement who, at the same time, also support the HS2 project (23% to 30%). For these Britons, the expected benefits (economic or even environmental) of HS2 therefore appear to outweigh their general desire to prioritise conservation over infrastructure projects.

Overall, a plurality of British respondents who are aware of the project oppose High Speed 2, though support varies significantly by age group and region, with those living in the West Midlands metropolitan region in particular being much more supportive. Opposition varies by age but not by political party. A significant minority of the public are not familiar with HS2, and younger people are significantly less likely to be familiar with the project than older people. Despite claims that HS2 is necessary to protect the environment and develop a more environmentally friendly rail network, a plurality of those aware of the project remain unconvinced and believe that on the whole, the project will be a bad thing for the environment. Ultimately, the vast majority of the public thinks conserving natural areas in the UK should be prioritised, even at the risk of blocking major development projects.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

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