Government announces review into benefits of HS2

21 Aug 19

The future of the high-speed HS2 rail project is to be determined by the findings of an independent review expected by the end of the year.

The review, which will be chaired by former HS2 chairman Douglas Oakervee, will consider the benefits, affordability and scope of the scheme, as well as its phasing, including its relationship with Northern Powerhouse Rail.

In particular, it will take a view on whether HS2 is in a position to deliver the scheme effectively, assessing both the opportunities for efficiencies and the direct cost of cancellation, with a view to providing “clear advice” to government on the future of the project. 

It will also probe the assumptions underpinning the initial business case for the scheme, and look at whether there are alternative strategic transport schemes which would achieve comparable benefits in a similar timescale.

The announcement follows the declaration of prime minister Boris Johnson during the Conservative leadership campaign that he wished to review “whether and how we proceed” with the scheme ahead of the government’s decision on phase one, the London to West Midlands section, which is due by the end of the year. 

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said that an “independent and rigorous” review of the scheme was required, which would allow the government to make properly informed decisions on the future of phases one and two of the project.

“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,” he said.

Earlier this week, the IPPR North think-tank said that phase two of the project must begin in the north to allow the acceleration of Northern Powerhouse Rail, which would use planned HS2 infrastructure.

Regional leaders have warned that a failure to proceed with the second phase of the project, which would see the line extended from the West Midlands to Crewe and Manchester, and between Birmingham and Leeds, would be disastrous for local economies.

Tim Farron, ex-leader of the Lib Dems and the party’s spokesperson for the North, said building better infrastructure across the North was “vital” to rebalance the economy.

“For the Conservatives to even suggest cancelling HS2 is a slap in the face for people living across the North,” Farron said.

“HS2 is far from perfect. It needs to have greater transparency and accountability so the public know what’s happening with their money, but that does not mean the project should be consigned to the scrapheap.”

The government said limited, largely preparatory, works on the project would continue in parallel with the review, which is expected to report in the autumn.

Alongside Mr Oakervee and deputy chair, Labour peer Lord Berkeley, the review panel will consist of experts including Network Rail chairman Peter Hendy, economist Andrew Sentance and West Midlands mayor Andy Street.

Although members of the panel would be consulted on the report’s conclusions, none would have a veto in the event that consensus could not be reached, the government said. 

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