Sunday 5 January 2020 1:42 pm

Dissenting HS2 report revives calls for government to release official review

Whitehall is facing growing clamour to release its official review into the HS2 rail line, after a former insider slammed the project in his own dissenting report over the weekend.

The Rail Industry Association (RIA), which represents contractors working on HS2, urged the government to publish its independent review into the line “swiftly” after Lord Tony Berkeley, the former deputy chairman of the review, said the cost of the project is “out of control”.

Read more: MPs were ‘misled’ on HS2 cost, says former deputy of government review into project

In an explosive dismissal of  the official, government-sanctioned report written by former HS2 chairman Douglas Oakervee, Berkeley said MPs would not have agreed to HS2 had they known the true cost. That could be as much as £107m, three times the original estimate, he claimed.

But in response, RIA boss Darren Caplan said: “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.

“We urge the Oakervee Review to publish swiftly and the government to proceed with the project as soon as possible, to make the benefits of HS2 a reality, for the benefit of passengers, communities, and UK plc more widely, its economy and connectivity.”

Berkeley, a civil engineer by trade, has called the Oakervee Review a “whitewash” and “a very good marketing document for HS2”. 

As a result, he has published his own dissenting version.

In that, he said the benefit to taxpayers is now “well below the break-even point” compared to how much it will cost. 

The HS2 route map (HS2 Ltd)

Officials at the Department for Transport (DfT) and HS2 Ltd, the government firm building the rail line, were accused of a “lack of cooperation” with the review panel in the report.

Berkeley said the Oakervee review – a draft of which leaked in November – was “unduly influenced by promoters of the project”.

Meanwhile, campaigners trying to stop the project renewed calls for it to be scrapped yesterday.

Penny Gaines, chair of Stop HS2, said: “The case for HS2 has always been poor, and is simply getting worse. 

“In the last six months the expected cost has nearly doubled, the timescale massively increased and the environmental damage from HS2 is becoming increasingly apparent.”

The draft Oakervee review acknowledged that costs were likely to be more than the latest official estimate of £88bn, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has predicted it could cost more than £100bn. 

But no government-backed analysis has put the price tag as high as the £107.9m predicted by Berkeley. Just six months ago, Theresa May’s government was still claiming HS2 would cost just £56bn.

Read more: Deputy chair of leaked HS2 review slams ‘whitewash’ report

A DfT spokesperson 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.”