A decision on whether to proceed with the controversial HS2 rail project appears to have been pushed back until after the upcoming General Election, amid uncertainty over how it will feature in party manifestos.
Lord Tony Berkeley, the deputy chairman of the official review into the high-speed rail scheme, said the report remains unfinished, with days to go until pre-election restrictions on what the civil service can publish come into effect.
Douglas Oakervee, who is writing the review, has yet to show his final draft to either Berkeley and the other panel members, or to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
It remains unclear how the Tories will approach HS2 in their election campaign, with business secretary Andrea Leadsom leading calls for the project to be scrapped. It is due to link London and the West Midlands in a first phase delivered in 2026, before a second phase connects Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester by 2033.
Earlier this autumn Shapps revealed that the costs may spiral to £88bn by 2019 prices, against a budget of just over £62bn.
Berkely tweeted: “We are told that, when completed by Doug Oakervee and the Department for Transport secretariat, it will be locked into the DfT vaults for the new secretary of state to publish.”
Until then, he said, his role as deputy to Oakervee had finished, with the report still unfinished and “no opportunity [for Berkeley] to influence conclusions”.
HS2 has been dogged by delay, scandal and spiralling costs in recent years, prompting Prime Minister Boris Johnson to commission the independent review into the divisive project, scheduled to land this autumn. He has admitted the costs of the HS2 would probably be “north of £100bn”. Shapps told the House of Commons in September that he would make a “go, no-go” decision in December – once he had seen the review.
The review has been hit by accusations of bias, however, with Oakervee a former chairman of the scheme. He will be hard-pressed to publish his report before Whitehall enters the period of pre-election purdah, in which the government is constrained by law on making major policy decisions.
According to the terms of reference, the review examines:
- 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 DfT spokesperson said: “The Oakervee review will conclude in the autumn and it would be inappropriate to pre-empt its recommendations.”