The future of HS2 has been called into serious doubt, after the government today announced an independent review into whether and how to proceed with the multi-billion pound project.
A decision on whether to proceed with HS2 is expected by the end of the year, but further doubts have emerged after Lord Berkeley, a major critic of HS2, was appointed deputy chair of the review. Berkeley, a railway expert and Labour peer, has repeatedly challenged the department for transport’s cost figures and warned that the budgets were spiralling out of control.
The review will be chaired by Douglas Oakervee, a retired engineer and ally of the prime minister, Boris Johnson, in his time at City Hall.
The newly announced review follows a damming report by the House of Lords back in May, that claimed there were too many unanswered questions on HS2.
Transport secretary Grant Schapps has confirmed that the independently-led government review will look at whether and how HS2 should proceed, using all existing evidence on the project to consider:
- its benefits and impacts
- affordability and efficiency
- deliverability and scope
- its phasing, including its relationship with Northern Powerhouse Rail
Grant Schapps, transport secretary, 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 said: “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.”
Business, transport, infrastructure and construction industry organisations have all responded to news of the review by strongly emphasising that the benefits of HS2 far outweigh any concerns, and have urged that the project must move forward.
Tom Thackray, CBI director of infrastructure, said: “The business message on HS2 is clear-cut - back it, build it, benefit from it. The debate has gone round the houses too many times. While it’s always helpful to review major projects like HS2 to ensure that value for money is delivered, the business case is well known.”
Hannah Vickers, CEO of the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE), said: “HS2 offers a once in a lifetime opportunity to change the way we connect and travel across the UK, and cancellation or delay would be a saddening prospect, not only for the industry, but for the public as a whole.”
Maria Machancoses, director of Midlands Connect, said: “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.”
Darren Caplan, chief executive of the Railway Industry Association, said: “The government is right to evaluate major investment projects through mechanisms such as the Oakervee Review. However, we should put the HS2 scheme into perspective and remember all the benefits it brings. HS2 provides clear economic and regeneration benefits to the whole country, so the RIA and our members trust the Oakervee Review team will produce a report which will ultimately support HS2, and ensure the UK gets the world-class rail infrastructure and additional capacity it needs in the years ahead.”
Mark Cowlard, UK CEO of Arcadis, said: “We hope the independent review by Douglas Oakervee will swiftly come to the conclusion that the benefits of HS2 vastly outweigh the concerns, and that any concerns can be rightly addressed through the planning and development process. This will ensure the construction sector can move forward and deliver a railway which showcases the best of British engineering and innovation.”
The review’s final report will be sent to the secretary of state, with oversight from the prime minister and chancellor of the exchequer, by the autumn, and the report will inform the government’s decisions on next steps for the project. Limited, largely preparatory works, on the project will continue in parallel with the report’s work.