UK: The terms of reference and timeline for an independently-led government review of whether and how to proceed with the High Speed 2 project were published by Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps on August 21.

The ‘independent, thorough and objective’ review is to be chaired by Douglas Oakervee, whose previous roles have included Chairman of project promoter HS2 Ltd and Chairman of Crossrail Ltd during its hybrid bill phase. Former Rail Freight Group Chair Lord Berkeley has been appointed as Deputy Chair.

They will be supported by a panel comprising Michèle Dix, Stephen Glaister, Patrick Harley, Sir Peter Hendy, Andrew Sentance, Andy Street, John Cridland and Tony Travers. The final report is to be submitted to the Secretary of State by the autumn.

Independent and rigorous

The London – Birmingham first phase of HS2 is currently due to open at the end of 2026, with the second phase to Leeds and Manchester by 2032-33.

Preparatory work will continue in parallel with the review, which will use ‘all existing evidence’ to consider the project’s benefits, impacts, affordability, efficiency, deliverability and scope, as well as the phasing and relationship with the Northern Powerhouse Rail programme to enhance rail services in northern England.

‘The Prime Minister has been clear that transport infrastructure has the potential to drive economic growth, redistribute opportunity and support towns and cities across the UK, but that investments must be subject to continuous assessment of their costs and benefits’, said Shapps. ‘That’s why we are undertaking this independent and rigorous review’.

Industry response

Darren Caplan, Chief Executive of Railway Industry Association, said ‘the government is right to evaluate major investment projects through mechanisms such as the Oakervee Review, and RIA welcomes the fact that the review will be completed quickly to remove damaging uncertainty and allow a notice to proceed in December.’

He added that ‘we should put the HS2 scheme into perspective and remember all the benefits it brings’, noting that spending of about £10bn/year over the next three years would be 0·4% of total annual public spending, the ‘economic benefits far outweigh the costs’ and the project would ‘significantly increase capacity’ on the existing West Coast and East Coast main lines.

The High Speed Rail Industry Leaders group said the case for HS2 was ‘unassailable’, and the review should consider how it can ‘deliver 3 h London –Scotland journeys in line with the Prime Minister’s promise of bringing the country back together and meeting the UK’s net zero emission targets’. HSRIL said HS2 would ‘smash the north-south divide by bringing Britain’s towns and cities closer together and reducing the 40% productivity gap between London and the north’, with 47 towns and cities being either on the route or benefiting from capacity released on the existing network.

Maria Machancoses, director of the Midlands Connect group of local authorities, said ‘we must not lose sight of the fact that HS2 will transform our transport network for the next century. Scrapping it or de-scoping it would be a disaster for the Midlands and the whole country.’

General Secretary of the TSSA trade union Manuel Cortes said the government was ‘going down the wrong track’ in announcing the review, but he was confident it would highlight the ‘golden opportunity’ the project presented and the ‘vast economic, social and environmental benefits’.