Wednesday 21 August 2019 10:42 am

HS2 faces the scrap as Boris Johnson kicks off review

The controversial HS2 high speed rail line could be scrapped after the government launched a review into the scheme following mounting concerns over its cost and deliverability.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps officially kicked off the review into the high speed line, which will connect London to Birmingham from December 2026, and Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds from 2033.

The review will be chaired by former HS2 boss Douglas Oakervee while prominent HS2 critic Lord Berkeley will act as deputy chair.

Read more: Business groups warn of delays for troubled HS2

Asked by the BBC whether the scheme could be scrapped, Shapps replied: “Clearly if you are going to look at something from scratch and you’re going to take into account all of the costs and benefits…and starting with a blank sheet, the outcome could be any of these things.”

Boris Johnson confirmed that he would launch a review into the project – which will link London to Birmingham and the north in phases – when he became Prime Minister, after concerns mounted over the project’s deliverability and swelling costs.

He admitted to Birmingham Live last month that the costs of the HS2 would probably be “north of £100bn”. Its official price tag is £65bn.

According to the terms of reference, the review will look into:

  • whether HS2 Ltd is in a position to deliver the project effectively
  • whether HS2 Ltd’s latest estimates of costs and schedule are realistic and are comparable to other UK infrastructure
  • making Old Oak Common the London terminus, at least for a period
  • building only phase one
  • combining phases one and 2a
  • different choices or phasing of phase 2b, taking account of the interfaces with Northern Powerhouse Rail

A final report will be delivered to Shapps by the Autumn.

Read more: Chris Grayling slammed for ‘trainwreck’ HS2 payout to Heathrow Airport

Labour MP Lilian Greenwood, who chairs the Transport Select Committee, tweeted:

Andy McDonald, Labour’s shadow transport secretary, said: Labour supports investing in developing new rail capacity, including high speed and digital rail, to address the climate crisis and better connect our towns and cities. But improved governance of railway expansion is needed, not least over the HS2 project.

“We attempted to amend the HS2 bill recently to require an independent peer review, which the government rejected. Labour supports an independent peer review to consider the project’s environmental and economic impact and its governance.”

Anti-HS2 campaign group Stop HS2 said all construction should be halted until the review had finished.

Chair Penny Haines said: “While we welcome an independent review of HS2, having a former chair of HS2 Ltd does not make it sound particularly independent.

“Right from the start government reviews of HS2 have been stuffed full of supporters of high speed rail, and have tended to come out with gushing praise for HS2.  Meanwhile independent reviews have criticised HS2 for the massive costs, disruption, outdated views of travel and the environmental damage HS2 will cause.”

How did businesses react?

British Chambers of Commerce: ‘HS2 is so important to business confidence.

“While no project should have a blank cheque, business communities across the UK will be concerned about the potential for further delays to HS2. This review must work at pace with our business communities to improve and hone this crucial infrastructure project, which is so important to business confidence.” 

CBI: ‘The debate has gone round the houses too many times.

“The business message on HS2 is clear-cut – back it, build it, benefit from it. The debate has gone round the houses too many times.

“While it’s always helpful to review major projects like HS2 to ensure that value for money is delivered, the business case is well known.

“The approval of HS2 phase one led to record levels of foreign direct investment in the West Midlands, with more than 7,000 new jobs created in Birmingham as a direct result of HS2, and over 100,000 more. We have seen and are continuing to see similar benefits right across the proposed route.

 “We firmly believe that committing to HS2 in full, once and for all, will spread the flow of investment across the Midlands, the North of England and into Scotland. The current poor connectivity in the North is a major obstacle to encouraging companies from growing in the region and is a barrier to inward investment.”

Federation of Small Businesses: ‘It’s vital that the HS2 project remains on track.

“For the good of UK small firms and the economy as a whole, it’s vital that the HS2 project remains on track. The stop-start approach to major transport investment that’s held our economy back for decades has to end.   

“Of course HS2 needs to represent value for money, and that starts with responsible procurement – bringing smaller firms into the supply chain wherever possible and paying them on time.

“HS2 should be seized by this government as an opportunity to back the small businesses that it so often claims to support, opening doors for them and setting the tone for future infrastructure projects. It would do well to remember that small firms bring a dynamism to supply chains that big corporates struggle to match.

“Wider job creation, inward investment and transport projects across the north of England and Midlands hinge on HS2’s completion. This project is not simply a nice to have. Done right, it will lay the foundations for a truly balanced UK economy.”

Read more: Tory mayoral hopeful Shaun Bailey calls for ‘pause’ on HS2

London First: ‘Our regions and businesses cannot afford more uncertainty

“The review of HS2 must not delay this vital national infrastructure project, which will deliver desperately needed rail capacity connecting all parts of the country. Now is the time to make a firm commitment, projecting vital jobs in the supply chain and boosting economic growth.

While the costs and the details should remain under scrutiny, our regions and businesses cannot afford more uncertainty.”