Posted 21st August 2019 | 12 Comments

HS2 make or break decision looms

TRANSPORT secretary Grant Shapps says a ‘go or no-go’ decision will be made about HS2 by the end of the year.

The DfT said a review will ‘consider whether and how the project should proceed’, and will take into account the benefits, cost and practicality of building lines between London, Birmingham and the North of England.

Midland Connect has warned that scrapping the scheme would be a ‘disaster’ for the region, while the TSSA union says the government is ‘on the wrong track’.

The review will be carried out by former HS2 chairman Douglas Oakervee, with Lord Berkeley as his deputy.

The terms of reference will be to consider the benefits and impacts of the scheme, whether it is affordable and would be efficient, whether it can be carried out and if the scope is still appropriate, and finally the timing of the phases and how they would fit in with the related projects of Northern Powerhouse Rail.

Mr Oakervee had already been asked to launch a review of a HS2 on a less official basis by Boris Johnson before Mr Johnson was elected leader of the Conservative Party and became Prime Minister.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: ‘The Prime Minister has been clear that transport infrastructure has the potential to drive economic growth, redistribute opportunity and support towns and cities across the UK, but that investments must be subject to continuous assessment of their costs and benefits.

‘That’s why we are undertaking this independent and rigorous review of HS2. Douglas Oakervee and his expert panel will consider all the evidence available, and provide the department with clear advice on the future of the project.’

Douglas Oakervee added: ‘The Prime Minister has asked me to lead this important review into the HS2 programme. I looking forward to working with my deputy, Lord Berkeley, to advise the government on how and whether to progress with HS2, based on all existing evidence.’

Lord (Tony) Berkeley is a long-standing critic of the scheme, at least as it is presently proposed. He has repeatedly voiced concerns about spiralling costs.

More recently, HS2 chairman Alan Cooke was reported to have warned the Department for Transport that the budget of £55.7 billion was likely to rise by £30 billion, although the DfT has neither confirmed nor denied this.

HS2 has also been experiencing other problems, including allegations that whistleblowers who wanted to reveal that costs were rising were sacked before they could do so, and then silenced by the use of non-disclosure agreements, while the work to build the HS2 terminus in Birmingham at Curzon Street has had to be re-tendered, after it was revealed that contractors were unwilling to take on the risks of the scheme.

Midlands Connect director Maria Machancoses said: ‘The massive benefits of HS2 to the Midlands are already being felt. Although a review must rightly scrutinise the project’s deliverability, benefits and costs, we must not lose sight of the fact that HS2 will transform our transport network for the next century. Scrapping it or de-scoping it would be a disaster for the Midlands and the whole country.

We’re pleased that West Midlands Mayor Andy Street is on the review panel to promote the interests of the region. But it’s vital that the East Midlands isn’t ignored in this process either. Therefore, Midlands Connect will be submitting compelling evidence to the review concerning the benefits of HS2 to the whole of the Midlands.’

TTSA general secretary Manuel Cortes also wants the scheme to continue. He warned: ’The Government is going down the wrong track with this review. However, I’d urge Mr Oakervee to consider first and foremost the vast economic, social and environmental benefits of HS2. This is a golden opportunity – using a clean and green scheme - to put rocket boosters under regional economies across the country, create thousands of additional jobs and better connect cities.

‘HS2 is an essential pillar of our country's modernisation and will be vital in assisting local authorities and business in the rebalancing of Britain’s economy.

‘We need HS2 to run the length of Britain – from London to Scotland - delivering 21st century transport links which will reboot our economy beyond the south east.’

The Railway Industry Association represents suppliers, and RIA chief executive Darren Caplan said: ‘The Railway Industry Association welcomes the fact that the review will be completed quickly to remove damaging uncertainty and allow a notice to proceed in December. However, we should put  the HS2 scheme into perspective and remember all the benefits it brings.

‘The review will show that spend on the project will be about £10 billion per year over the next three year period, out of some £2,500 billion of public spending projected in that time. That is 0.4 per cent of annual public spending. Meanwhile, its economic benefits far outweigh the costs, with more than £90 billion in GDP growth per year generated across the country, 9,000 jobs already involved with the scheme, and at peak construction 30,000 jobs supported.’

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • David Cook, Broadstone, Dorset

    Having come so far, to scrap HS2 totally now would be madness. The craziest thing of all is the rubbish put about by some people claiming that we do not have the generating capacity to run a few electric trains on HS2 (whilst conveniently forgetting the number of electric cars planned for the near future to meet pollution targets).......

  • Andrew Gwilt, Benfleet Essex

    I think HS2 will still continue. I can guarantee that HS2 will still carry on and 1st phase is due to be completed by 2027.

  • Philip Russell , Carlisle

    This enquiry probably amounts to little more than an attempt to gain a few additional Shire constituency Tory votes in a soon the be called general election, followed soon after by an announcement that at least the first 2phase will proceed largely as planned .

  • Tony Pearce, Reading

    A further comment, - don't compare the UK to other Countries like France. It has a land mass 3 times the same as the UK with plenty of unused open spaces. Building railways is therefore much cheaper - and necessary - than in the UK. The French High Speed Network has been at the expense of its other Rail services which have either withered or died, and TGV subsidised around £500 million a year. The evidence is that the French TGV system has benefited Paris much more than the French Regions. Yes the UK needs more rail capacity but that's the debate to be had, - not trying to emulate other Countries.

  • Jez Milton, Manchester

    Endless anti-HS2 drivel is spouted by armchair experts who clearly have no firsthand experience of the crowding on peak rail services between Bham and Coventry, for example.

    Get it in your heads: additional capacity and a more reliable rail service requires HS2... not digging up the existing Victorian railway for years on end, with 'bus replacement'!

    Going back to the drawing board at this stage would make this country an international laughing stock (again).

  • Melvyn Windebank, Canvey Island, Essex

    The irony of this announcement is it comes just before a Bank Holiday weekend when nearby Kings Cross will be closed for work to reopen its 3rd tunnel to increase the number of lines out of Kings Cross !

    And it's worth noting that at Euston Station it's not lack of platforms that restricts trains but lack of approach tracks and that's what HS2 is planned to do by increasing the number of tracks out of Euston and diverting long distance trains via HS2 (WCML2!) it frees up existing tracks for more regional services services to. destinations that once had trains to London but lost them due to lack of capacity to stop trains at these stations!

    Some have suggested stopping HS2 at Old Oak Common but that no only defeats the object of HS2 speeding up journeys it also prevents diverting long distance trains from Euston onto HS2 to free up space thus defeating the purpose of HS2 ..... In fact even if HS2 were abandoned a couple of tunnels from Euston would still be needed !

    As for the costs of HS2 one has to balance these costs against the billions of value of property development at locations like Euston and OOC that it allows for Euston Station is at present just a big empty hole in Central London just like nearby Kings Cross railway lands were before HS1 arrived.

  • jak jay, surrey

    A great day for good news! along with BA's CEO slagging off BAA for budget over run on Heathrow's 3rd runway.
    The quicker HS2 is binned the better

  • Neil Palmer, Waterloo

    It's no wonder costs are rising and contractors are unwilling to take on the risks of the scheme, and this is all down to government faffing around and being unable to come to a decision and stick to it. In the time it takes the government here to decide to do something China has built another 1,000km of high speed rail. Indecisiveness like this is really going to be bad for the economy after Brexit.

  • david c smith, Bletchley

    Yes, the current HS2 proposal is quite flawed, I think, and there are potential alternatives with better benefit / cost prospects ; yes again ,relaying the ex - GC alignment could prove very useful for capacity relief , and new high speed trackwork could be layed as "new build stretches" as I understand the Germans have done , so as to avoid disruption , especially in built - up areas. An HS line could be built on a route where a"sea change" from aviation to rail would be likely, unlike the present proposed route, where rail already has 80% + of the market. ;" the North" doesn't end at Manchester and Leeds !

    Let's have new infrastructure, but give it a rethink !

  • Tony Pearce, Reading

    I am sure some cost-saving measures will come out of this review. We can't have HS2 becoming Crossrail Mk 2. The best plans are the simple ones. Take one step at a time and hope the business grows to finance and justify the next step. The bigger the project the more likelihood of costs increasing fast enough to frighten everyone.

  • John B, London

    Very welcome news. It's just a pity that Doug Oakervee is involved. It would have been much better to have a more impartial chair and someone with experience in large rail projects like John Armitt.

    At the very least, consideration should be given to abandoning a new line between London and Birmingham in favour of upgrading existing track.

  • king arthur, Buckley

    Given that the benefit-cost ratio for HS2 was 1.8 for the £56 billion price tag, the revised costing has pretty much wiped out any return on the investment. There are plenty of other rail projects that would bring huge benefits for substantially less capital cost; perhaps these will now be reconsidered.

    Why the Great Central Main Line has not received more attention as a solution to the capacity problems on WCML is rather baffling.