There is a sharp wake-up call to the government today from a powerful committee of MPs who call for the assumptions made about the benefits of HS2 to be reconsidered.
The Public Accounts Committee which scrutinises government spending says valuable lessons must be learned from the errors made in the planning for Britain's first High Speed line HS1 linking London to the Channel Tunnel.
Committee chairman Margaret Hodge said: “Whilst HS1 provides an efficient service, contributing in an important way to British transport infrastructure, there were costly mistakes in the history of the project. These must not be repeated with HS2.
Another expensive legacy of HS1 says the committee is the £4.8 billion cost to the taxpayer to cover the debt on the project. “HS1 was supposed to pay for itself but instead the taxpayer has had to pay out £4.8 billion so far to cover the debt on the project."
The MPs also question the assumptions made about savings to business travellers using the line. They say it is not the case that the time spent on a train is unproductive because in fact many use the train as an extension to the office.
The report also highlights a failure in the planning for HS2 to consider the benefits and costs of alternatives such as investment in broadband and video conferencing. Margaret Hodge says a key consideration must be the risk that HS2 would simply result in sucking business and trade into London when in fact better economic advantage could be secured by better routes linking northern cities to each other not just to London.
“All these things are crucial for proving the case for investment in long distance travel and demonstrating value for money." says the report.
Anti HS2 campaingers have welcomed the reports
In response Stop HS2 Campaign Coordinator Joe Rukin said;
“It is great news that the Public Accounts Committee have agreed with so many of our concerns about the shoddy way the Department for Transport have cooked the books to try and justify this completely unnecessary megaproject. We have always known that the plans haven’t been robust, that the DfT have been making over-optimistic assumptions, that much of the case is untenable, unrealistic and exaggerated and the DfT have failed to investigate the alternatives. Now that the Public Accounts Committee have agreed, we can only hope that Government give them the respect they deserve and take their scrutiny seriously. There is only one solution, go back to the drawing board, make rational assessments of what is the best interest of the UK as a whole and cancel HS2 before it is too late.”