Working from home could see rates of intercity and commuter travel permanently affected.
Conservative members have urged Boris Johnson to scrap HS2 and spend more on ending broadband and mobile blackspots.
A report by the party’s official grassroots think tank highlights demands for the £100 billion scheme to be cancelled, with members calling for construction of the rail line to start from the northern end, rather than London, if the Government presses ahead.
John Penrose, the former minister who chairs the Conservative Policy Forum (CPF) said there was a “strong vein of scepticism about whether infrastructure projects move fast enough … or offer good enough value”.
He added that the “particularly strong” doubts about HS2 could partly be down to the prospect of rates of intercity and commuter travel being permanently affected by Covid-19 and the shift to working at home.
The report was submitted to No10 and senior ministers this week, as Baroness Vere, a transport minister separately acknowledged that ” there may well be long-term effects on the way that we travel in the future”, as a result of the pandemic.
Lord Berkeley, a critic of HS2 who was deputy chairman of Mr Johnson’s review of the scheme, told the House of Lords that the Government should produce data on “the continuing trend for working at home and the likely long-term effect that this might have on rail travel, whether it is commuter services or HS2.”
Baroness Vere said Lord Berkeley was “quite right” about possible effects on travel, adding: “We will consider the future demand requirements for rail on all the enhancement projects in the pipeline.”
Of 70 local Conservative Policy Forum groups across the country, 41 per cent “insisted that HS2 should be scrapped”, when asked for ideas on infrastructure, investment and devolution policy, according to the CPF report.
“If it must proceed, they suggested that construction should start from the northern end. One-in-six (17 per cent) said East-West connections should be the priority.”Meanwhile three-in-five CPF groups (62 per cent) “emphasised the need to invest in high-speed broadband.”
In a comment that the CPF said was representative of other remarks on broadband, one local group said: “Continued blackspots in broadband and mobile coverage, particularly away from large urban areas, leaves opportunity unfairly distributed geographically.”
Summarising the report in a foreword, Mr Penrose said: “We like investment, but it’s got to be value for money. There’s a strong vein of scepticism about whether infrastructure projects move fast enough, given all the layers of government bureaucracy, or offer good enough value. The doubts are particularly strong around HS2, although whether the value-for-money concerns are because we are unsure how much intercity or commuter travel we’ll all be doing after COVID, or because of doubts about the business case more generally, isn’t clear, But a large minority of us think it should either be scrapped, or at least built from north to south (that rebalancing point again) rather than the other way around. “