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Parliament ‘misled’ over HS2 – review panel deputy chairman

The Labour peer puts the cost of HS2 at about at least £107.92 billion.

An HS2 sign near South Heath in Buckinghamshire where the high speed line will pass through the Chiltern Hills (Steve Parsons/PA)
An HS2 sign near South Heath in Buckinghamshire where the high speed line will pass through the Chiltern Hills (Steve Parsons/PA)

By Emma Bowden, PA

Parliament was “misled” about the costs of HS2, according to a report by the deputy chairman of the review panel.

Lord Berkeley found that there is “overwhelming evidence” that costs for the high-speed railway are “out of control”, according to the Sunday Telegraph, which has seen the report submitted to Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Based on independent analysis, the Labour peer puts the cost of HS2 at around at least £107.92 billion and suggests that taxpayers are on course to make a £40 billion loss on the project.

HS2 Ltd’s latest official estimate of the project is £88 billion.

In the report, Lord Berkeley says he believes “that Parliament was misled on the question of HS2 costs” from the evidence he has seen, adding it is “highly unlikely” the legislation would have passed if it had been given the “real costs figures by the Department of Transport”.

The deputy chairman launched a scathing attack on the Government-commissioned review in November, after a leaked draft recommended that the high-speed railway should be built in full despite soaring costs.

Lord Berkeley raised a series of concerns in a letter to former HS2 Ltd chairman Doug Oakervee, who was appointed by Mr Johnson to lead the review.

At the time, the Labour peer declared he “cannot support its conclusions or recommendations” and “serious problems with its lack of balance”.

In the report revealed by the Telegraph, Lord Berkeley accuses HS2 Ltd of a lack of co-operation with the review panel.

But a spokesman for HS2 Ltd said that they had provided “full co-operation” to Mr Oakervee and the rest of the review team.

Writing in the newspaper, Lord Berkeley said: “Ministers must urgently look again at HS2 and either put a new budget to Parliament for approval, change the scope of the project or cancel it.”

Stop HS2, a campaign group against the high-speed railway line, said the report leaves the project so “irrevocably damaged” that there is no choice but to cancel it.

Penny Gaines, chairman of Stop HS2, said: “The case for HS2 has always been poor, and is simply getting worse.

“In the last six months the expected cost has nearly doubled, the timescale massively increased and the environmental damage from HS2 is becoming increasingly apparent.

“It is time for this white elephant of a project to be cancelled as quickly as possible.”

The executive director of Greenpeace UK, John Sauven, said the Government needs to start listening to “HS2’s critics” if they were serious about climate change.

“The protection of ancient woodlands must be a priority for rail development, alongside more cost efficient investment in rail links in the North and hard pressed commuter lines across the UK,” he said.

The review was due to be completed this autumn, although the decision on the project’s future was pushed back by the general election.

Phase one of HS2 is planned to run between London and Birmingham.

It was initially planned to launch in 2026, but a recent report by HS2 Ltd stated that this could be pushed back until 2031.

An HS2 Ltd spokesman said: “There have been many individual views expressed about the HS2 project, however we await the publication of the Government’s official review.

“HS2 Ltd has provided full co-operation to Mr Oakervee and his review team, and if the Government decides to proceed we have a highly skilled team in place ready to build Britain’s new railway.

“Investment in a state-of-the-art high speed line is critical for the UK’s low-carbon transport future, will provide much needed rail capacity up and down the country, and is integral to rail projects in the North and Midlands which will help rebalance the UK economy.”

The Department for Transport last night said Lord Berkeley’s report represented his own view only.

“The Government commissioned the Oakervee review to provide advice on how and whether to proceed with HS2, with an independent panel representing a range of viewpoints,” a DfT spokesperson said. “Lord Berkeley’s report represents his personal view.”

PA

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