Transport secretary announces HS2 review
Transport secretary Grant Shapps has said that an independent review into the high-speed rail link HS2 will be launched, with a decision to be made on the future of the project by the end of the year.
The review will look into “whether and how HS2 should proceed”, with billions already having been spent on the initiative to connect London with the Midlands and northern cities via trains capable of reaching 250 miles per hour.
The first phase of the HS2 development connecting London and Birmingham is scheduled to open by the end of 2026, with the second phase, running to Leeds and Manchester, to be ready by 2032-33.
Shapps has refused to scrap the project without a review being conducted and a “go or no-go decision” will be made by the end of 2019.
He said that it is a “responsible” measure to gauge whether the benefits of HS2 really “stack up”.
Former HS2 Ltd chairman and prominent civil engineer Douglas Oakervee will oversee the review, with Lord Berkeley, who was involved in building the Channel Tunnel, deputising.
Addressing the significant investment that has already been made into the project, Shapps said: "Just because you've spent a lot of money on something does not mean you should plough more and more money into it.”
He revealed that ministers will seek to use the review to establish the clear facts around the project.
Shapps added: "Go and find out all the information that's out there… genuinely what it would cost to complete this project, and then we'll be in a much better position to make that decision, go or no-go, by the end of the year.”
The review will firmly establish cost estimates for the project thus far, opportunities for efficiency savings and the environmental impact, as well as determining whether the business case for the rail link is sufficient.
It will also estimate the projected level of losses from cancelling the project, redirecting proposed routes or slashing the project to the point where only phase one will be completed.
The government will receive the review’s full findings in the autumn of 2019.
Prime minister Boris Johnson had previously said during his Conservative leadership campaign that he would not scrap HS2 but did reveal his “anxieties about the business case” for it.
Indeed, incumbent HS2 chairman Allan Cook warned back in July that total costings of the project may rise by a further £30 billion, with a £56 billion budget having already been set aside for the initiative.
Concerns over the costs of the project have already been flagged up, with infrastructure expert Michael Byng saying that the first phase alone would cost double the existing budget.
The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee also warned back in May that it feared the project would go over budget and would not provide value for money in terms of the economic impact on particular regions.
Former transport secretary and current Labour peer Lord Adonis branded plans for the review “as stupid as you can get”, saying it would “screw Birmingham and the North”.
On social media, Adonis tweeted that the review would culminate in a “massive bun fight, while the transport department runs for cover and HS2 Ltd is paralysed by indecision”.
News of the review will also come as a blow to a number of business experts including the Confederation of British Industry, who appealed to the government in June for the HS2 project to be fully delivered to “spread the flow of investment across the Midlands, the North of England and into Scotland”.
Meanwhile, campaigners opposed to the project have said that construction on the proposed routes must cease, along with compulsory property purchase orders, until the findings of the enquiry have been submitted to government.
Joe Rukin from the Stop HS2 campaign, said: "If this is a genuine review, they must stop work now, because irreparable damage is being done right now to unique habitats and ancient woodlands.”