Storm breaks after Berkeley publishes his HS2 review

Updated 6 January 07.45

RAILWAY industry sources and politicians have been defending the need for HS2, after Lord (Tony) Berkeley published his own version of the forthcoming Oakervee Review. Oakervee is understood to be in favour of the scheme in spite of its sharply rising costs.

Parliament was ‘misled’ over the budget, alleges Berkeley, who had been deputy chairman of the official review panel, led by Douglas Oakervee. However, Berkeley and most of his colleagues were suddenly stood down at the end of October. Lord Berkeley has refused to sign the official version, saying that the project was out of control at an estimated cost of up to £107 billion.

He has now issued his own unofficial assessment of the scheme, which claims that Douglas Oakervee ‘fiddled with the numbers’, making the report a ‘whitewash’ and ‘a very good marketing document for HS2’.

He also claims that MPs would not have voted in favour of the Hybrid Bill authorising Phase 1 between London and Birmingham, if they had known the true cost. At the time, the official budget for all Phases was £55.7 billion, and this was said to include generous contingency margins.

The opening dates are also slipping, according to Lord Berkeley, who says Phase 1 is unlikely to open before 2031, five years later than planned, although the official date is now 2029. He also does not believe that Phase 2 will be complete to Manchester and Leeds before 2040. He says the benefit to taxpayers is ‘well below the break-even point’, and that only parts of the line should be built in the north of England.

However, his conclusions have received a bleak reception in the regions.

Midlands Connect Director Maria Machancoses said: ‘Lord Berkeley’s suggestion that the government should consider building only small sections of HS2 in the north of England shows a disgraceful ignorance of how important the scheme is to the Midlands. Our region of more than ten million people stands to benefit the most from HS2, yet we are consistently squeezed out of the debate. HS2 must be delivered in full.

‘Contrary to Lord Berkeley’s view that the benefits of HS2 have been overstated, I believe firmly that they have been vastly underestimated. During the official Oakervee Review, Midlands Connect and our partners submitted swathes of compelling new evidence showing that integrating HS2 with existing networks can bring vast improvements to journeys for millions of people.

‘HS2 is the best way of levelling up the country and unleashing our potential. There are no 'shovel ready' alternatives that could transform our rail network in the same way.’

Manchester City Council leader Sir Richard Leese said: ‘We need HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail delivered together, in full. After decades of underinvestment in strategic rail infrastructure, this is a once-in-a-generation chance to transform capacity and connectivity and level-up communities across the North, and beyond. We don't much appreciate being told by a peer, who divides his time between London and Cornwall, what the North wants.’

The Railway Industry Association has also voiced its disagreement.

Its chief executive Darren Caplan said: ‘We acknowledge the views of former HS2 Review Vice Chair Lord Berkeley in his minority report published today, and await the main Oakervee Review of HS2, which we understand will be published shortly.

‘Let us be clear: HS2 is vital for the UK as it seeks to boost its transport infrastructure for the whole country in the coming decades. It will provide much greater capacity by taking traffic off the current rail network, and transform connectivity between economic centres, cities, towns and communities. It is already generating thousands of jobs, and billions of pounds and GVA in investment and economic growth across the country, and will do even more in the coming months and years as the project gets delivered. What’s more, as studies into HS2 have found, its benefits have been significantly undervalued, with forecasts of 500,000 extra jobs and 90,000 homes created around HS2 stations in the years ahead.

‘We urge the Oakervee Review to publish swiftly and the Government to proceed with the project as soon as possible.’

Meanwhile, campaigners opposed to HS2 have welcomed Lord Berkeley’s conclusions. Penny Gaines of Stop HS2 said: ‘The case for HS2 has always been poor, and is simply getting worse. It is time for this white elephant of a project to be cancelled as quickly as possible.’

The DfT said: ‘The government commissioned the Oakervee review to provide advice on how and whether to proceed with HS2, with an independent panel representing a range of viewpoints. Lord Berkeley's report represents his personal view.’

No date has yet been announced for the publication of the Oakervee document which, like the Rail Review being prepared by Keith Williams, was probably delayed by the general election.

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