Is Parliamentary opinion swaying towards scrapping HS2 scheme?

One of the affected sites in Wendover
One of the affected sites in Wendover

A new House of Commons briefing to MPs says there is no capacity need for HS2 anymore, and that the final costs of the scheme were known to be greater than the official estimates in 2015.

This comes in the week that Boris Johnson said, at a Tory hustings event in Birmingham, that December would be decision time for HS2 were he to be Prime Minister, implying that the controversial project could be stopped altogether.

Works at Bacombe Meadow in Wendover - the works have since stopped here

Works at Bacombe Meadow in Wendover - the works have since stopped here

The man tipped to be the next Prime Minister said: "I have anxieties about the business case for HS2."

Notice to proceed was already scheduled to be rejected or granted by the Government in December (having been put back six months). Yet HS2 Ltd has continued to undertake preliminary works in areas affected by the line including Wendover and Calvert.

The Commons Library Briefing, which was published last week says that that when the strategic case for HS2 was originally produced demand for the service that it would offer was growing a relatively strong pace, both at the time and in the years before.

At that time it was felt that this level of growth in demand would continue at a solid rate.

One of our campaign front pages calling for MP David Lidington to talk tough on this issue

One of our campaign front pages calling for MP David Lidington to talk tough on this issue

But, in the years since that strategic case was made, the report which was released yesterday, says that peak growth stalled during the 2008/09 and since then it has trended down.

The report, which is entitled High Speed 2, The Business Case, Costs and Spending, says that in the years 2017/18 passenger numbers were in fact reducing.

The perceived capacity problems laid out in the original strategic case could also be alleviated much more cheaply according to the report.

It says that these ideas of improving the existing network and creating more capacity were discussed at the time, but the Government deemed them unacceptable because works would lead to closures on the affected lines.

When it comes to costs for the scheme the report also offered no solace for MPs.

It read: "There is a great deal of abiguity as to how much HS2 will cost. A large part of this confusion lies in the fact that very few estmates of the costs have been published.

"A comprehensive breakdown of the costs for the full Y network has not been published since 2013."

The report went on to add: "Various estimates of costs get circulated in the public domain, most notably the £55.7 billion for the full Y-Network. It is important to note that this is not a cost estimate, but rather a funding envelope.

"The Government remains committed to delivering the scheme within this envelope but estimates at the time of the 2015 Spending Review put the costs of the full Y-network at around £65 billion (in 2015 prices); although this was not published at the time by HS2 Ltd or the Department for Transport (DfT)."

In 2013 the last published estimate (which should take into account 2011 pricing) was £50.1billion. This included £42.6billion for construction and £7.5billion for rolling stock.

The Stop HS2 campaign group claims that not publishing the spending review details in 2015 is proof of a 'conspiracy' to hide the escalating costs of the scheme from the public.

Stop HS2 campaign manager Joe Rukin, said: "We have known for nine years that the case for HS2 has been founded on spin, but this report makes it absolutely clear that ministers, the DfT and HS2 LTtd have been carrying out a calculated conspiracy to mislead the public and Parliament about the known costs of HS2 for at least the last four years.

"You have to remember that MPs voted for HS2, completely unaware that ministers and mandarins knew the estimated cost of the project was significantly higher than they were being told."

A covering note on the Commons briefing paper, by Andrew Hayling, entitled HS2, Going Forward, read: "The scheme still retains widespread political support and the Government remains committed to its development. The Transport Secretary Chris Grayling insisted earlier in 2019 that not completing HS2 would be a betrayal of the Midlands and the North. However, it was revealed in June 2019 that, on the request of the Transport Secretary, Chair of HS2 Ltd Allan Cook is undertaking a review of the project to “make sure the costs and budget are right” and “that it is deliverable”.

"A full business case for Phase One, with an updated cost estimate is expected later in 2019, which will inform what is called a ‘Notice to Proceed’. This is the formal contractual process that enables each Phase One supplier to move from design and development to construction."

This newspaper has led the HS2: Enough Is Enough campaign and is calling for a second and final vote for MPs and Ministers on scrapping the scheme, unbound by collective responsibility.

Two weeks ago we delivered 640 letters from you, our readers, calling for MP David Lidington to act more strongly on fighting on behalf of his constituents against the scheme.

This comes after the MP said that the country must come before the needs of constituents on this issue.

Mr Lidington has yet to respond.