Industry

11 FEB 2019

MINISTERS “INCREASINGLY MINDED TO KILL OFF” HS2, NEW DOCUMENTARY REVEALS

The UK will get an inside look into the loss of support for HS2 from cabinet ministers as Channel 4 Dispatches airs its documentary revealing the mounting costs of the high-speed network.

Alarmed by spiralling costs, a senior cabinet source tells the documentary makers that ministers are considering saving money by only building HS2 to Birmingham and are even "actively considering" axing the entire HS2 scheme.

Although published national accounts show HS2 will rise to an average cost of £4.2billion a year over the next ten years, the whistleblower claims ministers have secretly allocated up to £6bn a year - the same amount Network Rail spends on maintaining its entire network.

In 2011, the estimated cost of the project was £33bn but if this £6bn estimated allocation is correct then this would still be £8bn more than the revised budget of £56bn.

The source follows this up by saying he believes ministers are now “increasingly minded to kill off” the network and “put the money into upgrading services used by millions of voters every day”.

Under the current plans, phase one of the high-speed rail link will open between London and Birmingham in December 2026 before the railway is extended to Crewe, Manchester and Leeds by 2033.

But the documentary titled HS2: The Great Train Robbery will add fuel to the fire over whether the high-speed line ever reaches northern parts of the UK.

Ahead of the documentary, a new national poll conducted by ComRes has suggested how public opinion of HS2 has hit rock bottom with just 7% of respondents believing HS2 will benefit them. While just one in five voters wanting the multi-billion-pound project to be built.

Two thirds of those living in the north want the money invested in Northern Powerhouse Rail instead, a scheme that would link major cities in the North of England and help hard-pressed commuters.

In his first interview since stepping down as chair of the Office of Road and Rail, Stephen Glaister, who was the government’s top in-house rail advisor, tells Dispatches correspondent Liam Halligan HS2 has not been thought through. 

“There was no big picture analysis. We just don’t know whether there would have been a better way of spending the money,” he added. “You might ask the question what else could you do? You could give larger sums of money to Manchester to Birmingham, to Newcastle and let them do as they saw best for their local communities.”

The mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, also tells the programme that it would be criminal to not extend HS2 beyond Birmingham and a “complete waste of money” if ministers’ loss of support changed the proposed plans.

Responding, HS2 chief executive Mark Thurston, insisted he will keep the scheme on budget. “What I'm very clear on and what HS2 is very clear on is that the budget for this scheme is £56bn,” he said. “That’s the task we've been set by government and that's what we work on until government advise us otherwise.”

HS2: The Great Train Robbery airs on Channel 4 tonight from 8pm.

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