THE Labour Party is increasing the urgency of its demands for an inquiry into HS2.
The call follows unconfirmed reports that HS2 chairman Allan Cook has written to the Department for Transport warning that all phases of the high speed project will cost more than £55.7 billion. According to the Financial Times, he has advised that they will cost a further £30 billion.
A number of external commentators have already been claiming that the official figure of £55.7 would prove inadequate, even though it includes substantial contingency allowances.
On 2 July, Lord Tony Berkeley told the House of Lords: ‘The department argues with me and the cost engineer Michael Byng, who has suggested that it is more like £156 billion, but no one has ever challenged his estimate. The Government just say that they do not recognise it. They have not come up with any alternative, even in front of the Select Committee a few years ago. I fear that there is a concerted effort by officials and successive Ministers to prevent scrutiny of the costs and programme, to refuse to discuss ways to reduce costs and generally to batten down the hatches.’
In the wake of the reported letter from Allan Cook, Labour shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said: ‘This warning from the chair of HS2 on spiralling costs flies in the face of repeated assurances from Chris Grayling that the project will be delivered within its budget. Only last week Labour proposed amendments which were designed to tackle cost issues head on, but they were rejected out of hand by this Government. We also proposed a peer review of the project but the Government said no. They should reconsider their stance and embrace that independent review. It is clear that the Government and HS2 have a lot of work to do if they're to restore confidence in this project.’
Meanwhile, HS2 Ltd has declined to confirm or deny the reports of Allan Cook’s warning. The company said: ‘We don’t comment on leaks or speculation. We have previously noted that our chair, as you would expect, continues to scrutinise the programme, and regularly reports back to the Department. We are determined to deliver a railway that rebalances the economy, creates jobs, boosts economic growth and is value for money for taxpayers.’