The independent London newspaper

Johnson is unlikely to back an independent review of HS2 now

10 January, 2020

• I WAS interested to read Oliver Cooper’s letter that a large number of Conservative MPs have united in a push for HS2 to be scrapped, (Come on Camden Labour, join Tories in the fight to scrap HS2, January 2).

I wish them all success, even at this late stage when irreparable damage has been caused in Camden.

The success of their campaign depends on whether the Oakervee Review is the thorough reassessment of HS2 that Boris Johnson promised when he was seeking election as party leader.

Many of us were sceptical. We saw his promise as no more than an attempt to attract votes from Tory party members who are overwhelmingly opposed to HS2. The refusal to publish the report prior to the election, merely confirmed our misgivings.

On September 30 Sir Keir Starmer met Doug Oakervee and his vice-chair, Labour peer Tony Berkeley. Sir Keir restated the well-rehearsed facts that at £100billion, the costs were out of control; this was not an effective use of resources to improve rail infrastructure; HS2 would not create jobs in the north; and if HS2 were to proceed, the London terminus should be at Old Oak Common rather than Euston.

HS2 activists were reassured that Lord Berkeley was a member of the review group. We had worked with him when the HS2 Euston Action Group had petitioned the select committee in both the Commons and Lords.

In July 2015 Sir Keir had argued the case for the London terminus to be at Old Oak Common. In both houses, he had argued that Camden was now getting only half a station, at twice the price, constructed in twice the time. We noted that the costs had doubled.

What we did not know was that HS2 already knew that the scheme could not be delivered within the stated budget of £56billion. That Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, withheld this information from parliament is a constitutional outrage.

Grayling also ignored a “strong recommendation” from the select committee that a compensation scheme should be introduced for the 1,300 households in Camden worst affected by the construction works at an additional cost of some £230million to £350million.

This was to afford parity with the additional compensation schemes which the government had already introduced for rural areas where Tory backbenchers had shouted loudest.

The Oakervee Review is finally to be published later this month. It is now apparent that Johnson did not afford the review either the time or the resources to carry out its stated role. The review was hampered by a lack of co-operation from both HS2 and the Department for Transport.

On Sunday Lord Berkeley confirmed he has withdrawn his name from the report. In a “dissenting report” he concludes there is overwhelming evidence that the project’s costs are out of control and the benefits have consistently been overstated; £40billion would be wasted if HS2 went ahead as it will now cost over £100billion.

He notes there is still no feasible solution on the table as to how the stations at Old Oak Common or Euston could work. The completion of Phase 1 is likely to be pushed back from 2026 to 2031 and Phase 2 from 2033 to 2040.

Lord Berkeley questions whether parliament would have approved HS2 had it not been misled on the costs. He proposes the government should put a revised budget back to parliament for approval, to change the scope of the project, or to cancel it.

However it is most unlikely that Johnson will afford parliament this opportunity. The Oakervee Review will prove to be the whitewash that Johnson always intended. It is now most unlikely he will deliver on his promise of a truly independent review of HS2.



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