Demand for a £33 billion high-speed rail link that will cut through Birmingham countryside has “likely been overestimated”, according to a thinktank.

It believes the government is simply “backing the wrong horse” over HS2.

And, in a report, the New Economics Foundation claims cash earmarked for the controversial line would be best spent elsewhere.

Evidence HS2 will promote economic growth or tackle the north-south divide is “limited”, the NEF said. The line will be “carbon intensive and environmentally damaging”, the foundation added.

It was “time to invest in transport away from London” with the money earmarked for HS2 being “better spent elsewhere”.

According to The NEF: “Demand for HS2 has likely been overestimated by oversimplified government modelling.”

The foundation suggested alternatives for the money that will be spent:

  • £10 billion could transform rail infrastructure in northern England and the Midlands, creating new and faster east-west links, redeveloping stations and electrifying regional rail lines
  • £10 billion could overhaul the East and West Coast main lines, increasing the speed, capacity and reliability of north-south travel with less environmental damage than HS2
  • £6 billion could upgrade mass transport in Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool, including investments in rail schemes and bus networks
  • £4.5 billion could roll-out superfast fibre optic broadband across the country, which would boost business, reduce pressure on transport and future-proof British infrastructure
  • £2 billion to make cities outside London better for cycling and walking.

David Theiss, a researcher at the NEF, said: “HS2 is the largest transport investment in the UK’s history. At the moment it amounts to a £33 billion gamble.

“Our research shows the Government is backing the wrong horse. Instead of pouring billions of pounds into a single line that will take 20 years to complete we should spread our bets on a wider range of transport.”