HS2’s business case is “tricky” but there is a limit to how much existing rail lines can be improved, the Government’s infrastructure adviser has said.
Sir John Armitt, chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission, told MPs that the project’s main benefit will be to tackle capacity constraint on the West Coast Main Line.
Giving evidence to the Commons Transport Select Committee, he said: “There is a limit to how long we can put sellotape and sticky stuff on a railway which was originally laid down nearly 200 years ago, and occasionally you have to build new.”
Occasionally you have to say 'this looks a sensible thing to do'Sir John Armitt
He went on: “The business case is always a tricky one. Economists will always come to different views.
“We’re talking about a project which is going to be beneficial to the country for the next 75 years at least, and therefore forecasting how those long-term socio-economic benefits are going to play out is a challenge for anyone.
“I think to a certain extent, occasionally you have to say ‘this looks a sensible thing to do so let’s go ahead’.
Last week ministers gave the official go ahead for construction on HS2 to begin.
HS2 Ltd, the Government-owned company developing the high-speed railway, issued a notice to proceed to firms contracted to design and construct bridges, tunnels, embankments and viaducts for phase one between London and Birmingham.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave the green light for HS2 in February, despite the plans running tens of billions of pounds over budget and several years behind schedule.
The Government-commissioned Oakervee Review warned that the final bill could reach £106 billion at 2019 prices.
HS2 Ltd chief executive Mark Thurston told the committee it was too early to know how the project will be affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
He said: “We were doing work when the pandemic really kicked in and we’ve continued to work through the last few weeks. Notice to proceed was a big decision for us.
“But it’s too early for us to really understand what the full impact will be.”