Critics claim peer shows ‘disgraceful ignorance’ of project

Lord Berkeley has published an alternative to the Oakervee review into HS2

Lord Berkeley has published a new report into the troubled HS2 high speed rail project that suggests it is “the wrong and expensive solution” to improving connectivity in the Midlands and North of England.

In the summer Berkeley was appointed deputy chair of the Oakervee review of the project (PT216). A fierce critic of the project, he stood down, claiming that he had had “no opportunity to influence conclusions” (PT221). Sources close to the Oakervee Review revealed that Lord Berkeley was, in private, very unhappy about the review process.

Now Berkeley has said that while he has not seen the final Oakervee report, 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.

In it he estimates the cost of HS2 to be £107bn at 2019 prices. Reducing the ‘unnecessarily high’ specification including the maximum design speed of 360-400 kph and 18 trains per hour could save £20bn, omitting the Old Oak Common to London Euston section could save £8bn, integrating HS2 Phase 2B 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”.

Berkeley added that he does not have confidence in promoter HS2 Ltd to take the scheme forward, or that the Department for Transport has the necessary skills or structure 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

“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 concluded.

Berkeley’s intervention was blasted by a number of stakeholders.

Maria Machancoses, director of Midlands Connect, said Berkeley’s suggestion that the government should consider building only small sections of HS2 in the north of England “shows a disgraceful ignorance of how important the scheme is to the Midlands”.

Contrary to Lord Berkeley’s view that the benefits of HS2 have been overstated, I believe firmly that they have been vastly underestimated

“Contrary to Lord Berkeley’s view that the benefits of HS2 have been overstated, I believe firmly that they have been vastly underestimated,” she said. “During the official Oakervee Review, Midlands Connect and our partners submitted swathes of compelling new evidence showing that integrating HS2 with existing networks can bring vast improvements to journeys for millions of people.”

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.”

He added scaling back or cancelling HS2 could put regional growth plans in jeopardy.

This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport

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