HS2 plans to scrap line to Leeds announced before value for money analysis completed
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to scrap High Speed Rail 2’s (HS2) eastern leg from East Midlands to Leeds was taken without a formal cost-benefit analysis of the remaining line, according to The Sunday Telegraph.
The government decided to abandon the Y-shape of the HS2 route earlier this month, with only the London Euston to Manchester wing of the £96bn taxpayer-funded project remaining intact.
Connections to Leeds have been ditched, with HS2 now stopping at East Midlands Parkway on one side, while plans for a new line between Manchester and Leeds have also been abandoned.
This is despite the route initially being a key plank of Northern Powerhouse Rail.
Despite these seismic changes, Department for Transport had reportedly still not finished calculating HS2’s updated “benefit-cost ratio” as recently as last week.
This is the metric used to assess whether a taxpayer-funded project offers value for money.
Instead, the department told the newspaper that officials had only carried out cost-benefit analysis for Johnson’s overall Integrated Rail Plan.
A Department for Transport spokesman said: “It is untrue that benefit cost ratio analysis was not undertaken. Our £96 billion Integrated Rail Plan was informed by detailed economic and value for money analysis including benefit cost ratios.”
Commenting on future developments, they added: “As individual schemes are taken forward, further cost-benefit analysis will be completed to inform future decisions. This is standard with a project at this stage of development and given the study to be carried out on how to take HS2 services to Leeds.”
Lord Macpherson of Earl’s Court, the former permanent secretary at the Treasury, told the newspaper it was “very odd” and “surprising” that a value-for-money analysis specifically of the revised HS2 scheme was not produced ahead of the Prime Minister signing off on plans to alter the line.
He said: “In a sensible world when you’re trying to prioritise investment projects you do want the full analysis broken down by project.”
HS2’s former technical director Professor Andrew McNaughton has previously outlined that the West Midlands-Leeds leg was a “core” element for the line.
While some backbenchers criticised the decision to axe the eastern leg of the HS2 route, critics of the scheme are suspicious and believe any new calculations could result in an official assessment showing the rail line offers poor value-for-money.
This follows the last assessment, in 2020, which concluded that the scheme had dropped from “medium” to “low” value.
The lack of clarity over the assessment process is the latest situation where Boris Johnson’s government can be accused of sloppiness.
The confusion over the rail plan follows both Boris Johnson spluttering his way through a speech to the Confederation of British Industry, referencing Peppa Pig and making car noises, and the humiliating climb-down from its attempt to quash Parliamentary standards procedures against the now-resigned former-MP Owen Paterson.