Impression of a generic HS2 train

UK: Lord Tony Berkeley published a dissenting report into the High Speed 2 project on January 5, calling it ‘the wrong and expensive solution’ to providing better north–south inter-city services and improving services in the Midlands and North of England.

He was Deputy Chair of the review of whether and how to proceed with HS2 which Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps appointed Douglas Oakervee to produce in August 2019.

Berkeley has not seen Oakervee’s final report, but said he did not support the draft because ‘it was not possible to produce a genuine independent report’ and there was ‘a bias towards accepting HS2’s evidence’, leading to ‘a critical but supportive’ recommendation to continue. As a result, Berkeley has published his own report.

Old Oak Common HS2 station.

He argues that the greatest need for improvements is within the regions, particularly the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Connect areas, and says HS2 would not help outside the NPH area.

Berkeley estimates the cost of HS2 to be £107bn at 2019 prices. Reducing the ‘unnecessarily high’ specification including the maximum design speed of 360-400 km/h and 18 trains/direction/h could save £20bn, omitting the Old Oak Common to London Euston section could save £8bn, and integrating HS2 Phase 2B in the NPH area into the existing network and improving existing lines could save £50bn. He said starting at the northern end ‘does not work from a timing point of view’.

Palace of Westminster clock tower.

Berkeley said he lacks confidence that project promoter HS2 Ltd has the corporate ability to take the scheme forward, or that the Department for Transport has the policies and structures needed to manage it.

He said traditional value for money appraisals for HS2 do not work, and so going ahead must be a policy decision.

‘I believe that parliament was misled on the question of HS2 costs and that it is highly unlikely that, if it had been given the real cost figures by the DfT, it would have passed the legislation’, he commented.

Responses to the report

Impression of HS2.

Following publication of the dissenting report, HS2 Ltd said the new line was ‘integral to rail projects in the North and Midlands which will help rebalance the UK economy.’

A spokesman said ‘there have been many individual views expressed about HS2, however we await the publication of the government’s official review. HS2 Ltd has provided full co-operation to 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.’

Railway Industry Association Chief Executive Darren Caplan called for the Oakervee Review to be published swiftly and for the government to proceed as soon as possible.

‘Let us be clear: HS2 is vital for the UK as it seeks to boost its transport infrastructure for the whole country’, said Caplan. ‘It will provide much greater capacity by taking traffic off the current rail network, and transform connectivity between economic centres, cities, towns and communities.’

The High Speed Rail Industry Leaders group said Berkeley’s comments ‘miss the point’. It said HS2 was ‘essential for smashing the north-south divide and for transforming local and commuter services in the Midlands and the North. There is no plan B for either without HS2.’

Tim Wood, Northern Powerhouse Rail Director at Transport for the North, said ‘whilst we appreciate Lord Berkeley’s strong support for investment in northern infrastructure, we’re concerned about the view that the North doesn’t need HS2.’

Wood said NPR would be linked with HS2, with 80 km of shared infrastructure, and ‘the knock-on effects of scaling back or cancelling HS2 in the North would be significant, putting in jeopardy thousands of extra train journeys each year and the regional growth plans’.

Birmingham Curzon Street HS2 station.

Midlands Connect Director Maria Machancoses said Berkeley’s report ‘shows a disgraceful ignorance of how important the scheme is to the Midlands’, a region which ‘stands to benefit the most’ but has been ‘consistently squeezed out of the debate’.

Machancoses said it was ‘disingenuous to suggest that the government could upgrade existing lines in the Midlands and the North without HS2. Our £3·5bn Midlands Engine Rail proposals are fully integrated with HS2, as is Northern Powerhouse Rail, and we have said repeatedly that neither scheme can be fully realised without delivering HS2 in its entirety.’

Describing HS2 as ’a once-in-a-generation chance to make Britain’s transport network more sustainable’, Alex Veitch, Head of Multimodal at the Freight Transport Association explained that ’currently, the UK’s rail network is bursting at the seams. The government should be encouraging the use of rail freight as a more environmentally-friendly mode of freight transport, but at present its growth is stifled by a lack of capacity’. He called on the government to provide ’a cast-iron guarantee that freight services will have sufficient access to the released capacity that HS2 will provide’.

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