Evidence, policy and the politics of regional development: the case of high speed rail in the United Kingdom

John Tomaney, Pedro Marques
Environment and Planning C
Geographers have often reflected on the impact of their research on policy making. Contributions usually focus on the (ir)relevance of research topics or on the pressures to ‘publish or perish’ that discourage academics from engaging with applied work. In this paper we will focus instead on the difficulty in engaging with the political process, even when the evidence appears robust and if policy implications are relatively clear. We use the example of high-speed rail and its impacts on territorial inequalities to reflect on the decision-making process in the UK, where the government is currently considering building a new high-speed line. We argue that, despite fairly strong evidence suggesting that high-speed rail is likely to deepen inequalities between the regions in the UK, currently this project is still being hailed as a strategy to spread economic activity and ‘rebalance’ the British economy. We identify some of the reasons for this perverse outcome.