Tuesday 12 November 2019 11:44 am

HS2: Leaked report urges government to press on with rail project

The High Speed 2 (HS2) rail line connecting London to Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds should go ahead in its entirety despite the likelihood of massive budget overruns and falling benefit to the taxpayer, according to a draft of the official review into the project.

Douglas Oakervee, a former chair of HS2 who was tasked with assessing the project by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, has rejected axing parts of the multi-billion pound project to save money.

Read more: Why Boris Johnson is wary of putting HS2 on the scrap heap

His report found that spiralling costs caused by poor procurement meant that the benefit to taxpayers has fallen from £2.30 for every £1 spent in 2017 to between £1.30 and £1.50 for every £1 spent this year.

This is compounded by the finding that HS2 could benefit cities in the north and midlands more than London, because of improved conditions on intercity lines.

Oakervee said the journey from Leeds to Birmingham would be more than halved, from about two hours to 45 minutes.

The 10-person panel advising the review had suggested cutting the eastern arm of the line’s second phase, running between Birmingham and Leeds, as well as ending the line at Old Oak Common in west London instead of Euston station.

Panel members were shown a copy of the draft review on Thursday, shortly after the pre-election purdah period, preventing politically sensitive releases from the civil service, came into place.

The report concedes that HS2 is “not affordable” within the £56bn budget set for the project in 2015, and that a new £88bn estimate will most likely be hiked again.

Instead, Oakervee has put forward plans to cut the number of trains per hour from 18 to 14, according to the draft document leaked to the Times.

The timing of the leak piles the pressure on Johnson to clarify whether a Tory government would go ahead with the project.

The PM had sought to delay a final decision until after the upcoming General Election, last week saying he was wary of putting the project “on the scrap heap”, but admitting it was “incredibly expensive”. 

Earlier this year, he told Birmingham Live the price tag would “probably be north of £100bn”.

Read more: Andrea Leadsom thinks HS2 is now ‘out of control’

Opponents of the project have called the review a “whitewash,” and business secretary Andrea Leadsom last month said the project was “insensitive” and “out of control”. 

Lord Tony Berkeley, Oakervee’s deputy on the report, is gearing up to present a dissenting report to civil servants.