No case for HS2 reports Lords Committee

On the same day as the debate in Parliament on HS2, the influential House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee has published a damming report on HS2.  After months of taking evidence with extensive contributions from Government, HS2 Ltd, supporters and anti-groups, including HS2 Action Alliance, they deliver their verdict that “The Government has yet to make a convincing case for proceeding with the project [HS2].”, and “The analysis presented to justify the project [HS2] is seriously deficient”.

The twin planks of the Government’s current justification for HS2 – capacity and rebalancing the economy – are both heavily criticised:

Capacity – despite hearing from HS2 insiders – Network Rail, HS2 Ltd and DfT – the Committee say the scale of the capacity problem “is unclear” and the published rail usage statistics “do not suggest that there is an overcrowding problem on long distance trains – either now or in the near future”. The Committee calls for greater transparency – something HS2AA claim the Government has doggedly resisted.

Rebalancing – The Committee say that “evidence and experience suggests London will be the biggest beneficiary of the project”.   Transport projects in the North and Midlands are more likely to create economic benefits there, but the Government has not considered whether these might be a better approach than HS2.

Other key issues are:

Alternatives inadequately investigated – The Committee say “It is impossible to agree with the Government that HS2 is the only solution to increase capacity on the rail network”.  They criticise the Government for not giving serious consideration to making incremental improvements to the existing railways.

Benefits not convincing – The Committee are sceptical about both the value of time savings – which make up 82% of the claimed benefits – and the forecasts of increased demand.  They find the evidence behind them “inconsistent and out of date“.  The sharp increase in the estimates of current and future business travel that first appeared in the latest Government business case are subject to “conflicting data”.

Excessive costs – HS2 is already an “expensive project” and the final costs will be greater when connections to existing infrastructure are built.  Ways to cut costs should be explored, for example with a lower top speed, learning from the French who have much lower construction costs, and considering terminating at Old Oak Common.  Paying for HS2 from taxation is questioned against the objective of lowering the rail subsidy and because most taxpayers would not benefit from HS2.

Pricing – The Committee say the pricing strategy should be revisited, with passengers paying more of the cost. The issue of competition with other rail routes should be considered, together with its implications for demand for HS2.

The Committee concludes “Before spending more taxpayers’ money on this project, we believe the Government should answer the questions raised in this report.”

Bruce Weston, who gave oral evidence for HS2AA to the Committee, said;

 “We welcome the report from such a credible and influential committee, and hope that the Government will take it to heart. It is the latest in a long line of damning reports – from the Public Accounts Committee, the Treasury Select Committee, the National Audit Office, and the Major Projects Authority. 

“Independent, intelligent, and highly informed opinion, like that of the Lord’s Economic Affairs Committee, confirms what the majority of the public think, that there is no case for HS2.”

Hilary Wharf, Director HS2AA, said “It’s time for the political parties to take stock and accept that this is a vanity project without merit.  They should stop wasting money on HS2 and instead focus on where infrastructure is actually needed.”

Ends

Notes for editors:

1. HS2AA is a national organisation representing over 100 local groups who believe HS2 does not represent an effective answer to the UK’s transport, economic or environmental needs. HS2AA has focused on an evidenced-based approach to challenging the business case, the environmental case and compensation arrangements.

2. HS2AA was invited to give oral evidence to the Lords Committee, which we gave in November last year. HS2AA initially provided detailed evidence; unusually the DfT then provided extensive written comments on our evidence to the Committee – just prior to our appearance.  HS2AA responded with further supplementary evidence rebutting the points made by DfT.

For more information please contact:

Richard Houghton

Tel: 07803 178 037

Email: richardwhoughton@gmail.com