Review could derail £55bn HS2 project

The Department for Transport has formally announced the “rigorous” inquiry into the high-speed rail link, which will “inform the government’s decisions on next steps for the project”.

Chaired by former Crossrail and HS2 chairman Douglas Oakervee, it will look at a number of areas concerning the project, including affordability, efficiency and deliverability.

Lord Berkeley, a long-time critic of the scheme, will act as the review’s deputy.

A final report will be produced in the autumn.

If completed, HS2 would connect London, Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Edinburgh and Glasgow with up to 18 trains an hour at a top speed of 225mph.

But opponents say the scheme is too expensive and environmentally damaging.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the aim of the review would be to “get the facts on the table”.

“What I have said to Doug Oakervee…is just give us the facts,” he said.

“Go and find out all the information that’s out there, give us exactly where we’re up to, really genuinely what it will cost to complete this project and then we’ll know and be in a much better position to make that decision, go or no go, by the end of the year.”

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Allan Cook, chairman of the project, reportedly wrote to the Department for Transport last month to warn that the cost could spiral upwards still further – by £30bn.

The line, if completed, would run through Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency.

During his successful campaign for the Conservative leadership, Mr Johnson pledged to review the scheme.

He said earlier this month: “I do think it’s only responsible as an incoming government, with all the controversy surrounding the spend on HS2, which will probably be north of £100bn, it’s only responsible to have a short review without interrupting the timetable at Curzon Street [one of the proposed stations in Birmingham] or anywhere else.”

Lord Jim O’Neill, the vice-chair of Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said: “The scale of the cost justifies it despite the obvious downsides.

“As long as the bits of HS2 that are so vital for connecting northern cities with each other, I personally don’t think it will be as devastating as I know many of my good friends in the North believe.

“What is crucial for the Northern Powerhouse Project is to have Northern Powerhouse Rail,” he said, adding that HS2 would connect cities “both efficiently and cheaply – and that’s much more important for the north of England in my opinion”.

At the moment, the main construction work is due to begin later this year.

The first phase of the high-speed railway is currently scheduled to open between London and Birmingham in late 2026.

Phase 2a from the West Midlands to Crewe is due to launch in 2027, followed by Phase 2b from Crewe to Manchester, and Birmingham to Leeds, in 2033.

The review’s terms of reference reveal that it will look at the “realistic potential” for reducing costs through potential amendments to the project.

These include:

  • Reducing the speed of trains
  • Making Old Oak Common the London terminus “at least for a period”, rather than Euston
  • Constructing only phase 1, between London and Birmingham
  • Combining phase 2a – the extension to Crewe – with phase 1
  • Changing plans for phase 2b, which currently involves taking the line to Manchester and Leeds

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Reacting to the announcement, Labour’s shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said: “Labour supports investing in developing new rail capacity, including high speed and digital rail, to address the climate crisis and better connect our towns and cities.

“But improved governance of railway expansion is needed, not least over the HS2 project.

“We attempted to amend the HS2 bill recently to require an independent peer review, which the government rejected.

“Labour supports an independent peer review to consider the project’s environmental and economic impact and its governance.”

2019-08-22T00:58:09+00:00By |

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