THE ‘make or break’ review into the future of HS2 being carried out by Douglas Oakervee and Lord (Tony) Berkeley may have been delayed by wider political uncertainties, including the possibility of a General Election, according to the Government’s critics.
There were clashes in the House of Commons on 24 October when Labour Co-operative MP Rachael Maskell, who represents York Central, claimed that ministers are sitting on the report for political reasons.
She said: ‘Not only has the Williams review yet to see the light of day, but the Oakervee report is ready. His team has pulled out all the stops to get this to the Minister next week, so why is the Secretary of State saying that he will not publish it until after the general election? Is it because he intends to cut off the economic opportunities of the north, or is he worried that it will upset voters in the south?’
HS2 minister Paul Maynard, whose own constituency is in Lancashire, responded: ‘I will take no lectures from the hon. Lady on how to support the north economically, or indeed, in transport terms. I am delighted that she lives in a world of alternate reality—neither the Secretary of State nor I have received Mr Oakervee’s report. She clearly knows more than I do, or maybe she is making it up.’
Meanwhile, Conservative MP for Lichfield Michael Fabricant claimed: ‘Doug Oakervee has told me that the amount of time they have to consider all this is very limited—it is very challenging indeed—and there is not enough time to consider alternative routes, so will the Minister consider giving them more time to do just that?’
A few minutes later transport secretary Grant Shapps insisted the Oakervee conclusions are not yet known and that there is no time limit, when he answered another question from Conservative Dame Cheryl Gillan, whose constituency of Chesham and Amersham is on the route of HS2 phase 1.
Mr Shapps told MPs: ‘I have not seen any of it, not even its emerging conclusions. When Oakervee is ready, he will present that report. I stick with everything I said. This is very important. As soon as we have this information, I will make it available to the House.’
TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said the government should ‘stop dithering’: ‘It’s taking far too long to get off the slow lane and build the high-speed network our economy needs and our rail passengers deserve. The Tories must stop dithering and instead give the go ahead for this project not just to be completed but to be extended all the way to Scotland,’ he said.
When the Oakervee Review was announced on 21 August, the DfT said only that it was due to publish its findings ‘in the autumn’.