A NEW House of Commons report has cast doubt on the need for HS2, and says that many of its benefits, such as increasing capacity, could be achieved in other ways at lower cost.
The report is a Commons Library Briefing, written to inform MPs. These Briefings are not intended to present a particular point of view but to provide a factual summary.
The conclusion it reaches is that HS2 will only help parts of the network, and that ‘the additional capacity provided by HS2 on the West Coast Main Line appears to be over and above what is required to meet capacity pressures for several decades’.
It continues: ‘Some have questioned whether it makes sense for such a surplus of capacity to be delivered on one part of the network when other sections remain capacity constrained, particularly the lateral connections in the North of England as observed by the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee.
‘There is a great deal of ambiguity as to how much HS2 will cost. A large part of this confusion lies in the fact that few estimates of the costs have been published.
‘Several stakeholders have indicated that the final cost of HS2 may be much higher than currently projected. One of those most frequently cited on this is infrastructure consultant Michael Byng, who created the method used by Network Rail to cost its projects. He has estimated that the costs of HS2 are likely to be almost double the existing figure. The Government does not agree …’
Although the project has cross-party support, the paper also acknowledges differences of opinion within the Conservative Party, with some of the candidates to be the next Prime Minister having said they would scrap it if they came to power.
One of the two remaining candidates, Jeremy Hunt, is in favour of HS2. On 20 May this year, he tweeted: ‘HS2 is absolutely vital. Post Brexit we must be AMBITIOUS for our country and hungry for our economy. What signal would it send if we cancelled our highest profile infrastructure project and weakened our commitment to share prosperity around the country?’
His fellow-contender Boris Johnson is less certain, although he has apparently retreated from his earlier position that HS2 should be put on hold, and the money spent on better rail links across the north of England. He has now said that if he became Prime Minister he would commission an independent review of the scheme.
Meanwhile, other reviews are already underway. Transport secretary Chris Grayling wants the route of Phase 2 to be re-examined, with the possibility of regional ‘Northern Powerhouse’ trains also using it, while he has also asked HS2 chairman Allan Cook to analyse the costs of the whole scheme again, to see if all phases as planned can be built for £55.7 billion. On 6 June, Mr Grayling said decisions must be made ‘in the context of what is deliverable’.