Peer warns HS2 report is a ‘whitewash’ as rail scheme looks set to be saved from the chop
Lord Berkeley, who worked on the review into escalating costs, distances himself from the leaked findings
22 November, 2019 — By Tom Foot
Some of the demolition work which has already taken place near Euston
A PEER appointed to a review of the High Speed 2 rail project’s spiralling costs has distanced himself from a “misleading and dishonest” report he worked on – warning the entire process has been a “whitewash”.
Labour Lord Tony Berkeley, who lives in Bloomsbury, was named as deputy chairman of the HS2 review panel set up on orders of Prime Minister Boris Johnson in September. The report was looking into whether years of construction work in Camden could be stopped by terminating the line at Old Oak Common, in west London – instead of Euston.
But Lord Berkeley’s letter to the panel’s chairman Doug Oakervee, seen by the New Journal, said terminating at Euston had received “strong support” from the panel because it was too focused on trying to boost revenue through land sales. It said: “There was a marked reluctance from officials to delve more deeply into the costs of the project.
Lord Berkeley’s letter added: “I also detected a trend in many of the discussions with the review to accept that HS2 will go ahead so that every effort should be made to minimise costs and maximise revenue.” The process had relied too heavily on unsubstantiated claims from HS2 Ltd and also “a failure to scrutinise the involvement” of the Treasury and a “lack of balance” in the panel’s overall findings, the letter added.
Lord Berkeley said the true capital cost of the HS2 project should be officially accepted to be £103billion and the project was 220 per cent over budget before any construction work had begun, adding: “During 2009-2019, HS2 has spent approximately £750million on professional fees.
The company’s failure to deliver a robust estimate of cost and a compliant business case is therefore damning.” He said proposals made in the review were “misleading and dishonest”, adding: “Take this letter as a formal notice that I do not support the review report.”
It also revealed how Lord Berkeley – a rail and freight expert – had been excluded from key meetings with “ministers, officials and HS2 from non execs downwards” during the process.
“The review has been a whitewash,” Lord Berkeley told the New Journal last week. “I will publish my own report in due course.”
The report, leaked to The Times newspaper last week recommends only relatively minor changes to the project.
Its report said HS2’s impact would last for a century rather than decades, adding: “The evidence is clear that the full network is needed to realise the highest value for money economic return on the investment of HS2. Phase one as a standalone scheme does not represent value for money.”
Construction work is due to last in Camden until at least 2031, with some residents being told they will have to keep windows shut due to dust and noise. People have already been driven from their homes and businesses to make way for the rail line.
The Bree Louise pub in Cobourg Street is among the local landmarks that have already been flattened. Meanwhile, graves at a historic burial ground have been exhumed, and protests have formed against the felling of long-standing trees.