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HS2 make or break decision looms

TRANSPORT secretary Grant Shapps says a ‘go or no-go’ decision will be made about HS2 by the end of the year.

The DfT said a review will ‘consider whether and how the project should proceed’, and will take into account the benefits, cost and practicality of building lines between London, Birmingham and the North of England.

Midland Connect has warned that scrapping the scheme would be a ‘disaster’ for the region, while the TSSA union says the government is ‘on the wrong track’.

The review will be carried out by former HS2 chairman Douglas Oakervee, with Lord Berkeley as his deputy.

The terms of reference will be to consider the benefits and impacts of the scheme, whether it is affordable and would be efficient, whether it can be carried out and if the scope is still appropriate, and finally the timing of the phases and how they would fit in with the related projects of Northern Powerhouse Rail.

Mr Oakervee had already been asked to launch a review of a HS2 on a less official basis by Boris Johnson before Mr Johnson was elected leader of the Conservative Party and became Prime Minister.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: ‘The Prime Minister has been clear that transport infrastructure has the potential to drive economic growth, redistribute opportunity and support towns and cities across the UK, but that investments must be subject to continuous assessment of their costs and benefits.

‘That’s why we are undertaking this independent and rigorous review of HS2. Douglas Oakervee and his expert panel will consider all the evidence available, and provide the department with clear advice on the future of the project.’

Douglas Oakervee added: ‘The Prime Minister has asked me to lead this important review into the HS2 programme. I looking forward to working with my deputy, Lord Berkeley, to advise the government on how and whether to progress with HS2, based on all existing evidence.’

Lord (Tony) Berkeley is a long-standing critic of the scheme, at least as it is presently proposed. He has repeatedly voiced concerns about spiralling costs.

More recently, HS2 chairman Alan Cooke was reported to have warned the Department for Transport that the budget of £55.7 billion was likely to rise by £30 billion, although the DfT has neither confirmed nor denied this.

HS2 has also been experiencing other problems, including allegations that whistleblowers who wanted to reveal that costs were rising were sacked before they could do so, and then silenced by the use of non-disclosure agreements, while the work to build the HS2 terminus in Birmingham at Curzon Street has had to be re-tendered, after it was revealed that contractors were unwilling to take on the risks of the scheme.

Midlands Connect director Maria Machancoses said: ‘The massive benefits of HS2 to the Midlands are already being felt. Although a review must rightly scrutinise the project’s deliverability, benefits and costs, we must not lose sight of the fact that HS2 will transform our transport network for the next century. Scrapping it or de-scoping it would be a disaster for the Midlands and the whole country.

“We’re pleased that West Midlands Mayor Andy Street is on the review panel to promote the interests of the region. But it’s vital that the East Midlands isn’t ignored in this process either. Therefore, Midlands Connect will be submitting compelling evidence to the review concerning the benefits of HS2 to the whole of the Midlands.’

TTSA general secretary Manuel Cortes also wants the scheme to continue. He warned: ’The Government is going down the wrong track with this review. However, I’d urge Mr Oakervee to consider first and foremost the vast economic, social and environmental benefits of HS2. This is a golden opportunity – using a clean and green scheme – to put rocket boosters under regional economies across the country, create thousands of additional jobs and better connect cities.

‘HS2 is an essential pillar of our country’s modernisation and will be vital in assisting local authorities and business in the rebalancing of Britain’s economy.

‘We need HS2 to run the length of Britain – from London to Scotland – delivering 21st century transport links which will reboot our economy beyond the south east.’

The Railway Industry Association represents suppliers, and RIA chief executive Darren Caplan said: ‘The Railway Industry Association welcomes the fact that the review will be completed quickly to remove damaging uncertainty and allow a notice to proceed in December. However, we should put  the HS2 scheme into perspective and remember all the benefits it brings.

‘The review will show that spend on the project will be about £10 billion per year over the next three year period, out of some £2,500 billion of public spending projected in that time. That is 0.4 per cent of annual public spending. Meanwhile, its economic benefits far outweigh the costs, with more than £90 billion in GDP growth per year generated across the country, 9,000 jobs already involved with the scheme, and at peak construction 30,000 jobs supported.’

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