Too many unanswered questions on HS2, say Lords in damning report

The redevelopment of Euston station as part of HS2 should be postponed, say a House of Lords committee.

A House of Lords committee has published a highly critical report into HS2, saying that too many unanswered questions remain around the project in terms of rail investment priorities, the business case and spiralling costs.

The report, Rethinking High Speed 2, criticises the government for not considering whether rail investment in the north should have been prioritised over HS2 and claims that the first phase of HS2 will have “little benefit for northern cities”. The House of Lords economic affairs committee also says that the government’s priority for British rail infrastructure should be the north of England where people are reliant on “overcrowded and unreliable services”.

The Lords say they are “far from convinced by the government’s claim that the whole HS2 project will be built within the £55.7bn budget” and they quote former HS2 chairman Terry Morgan who told the committee that “nobody knows” what the final cost of the project will be. Underlining their concerns about the north being marginalised, the Lords voiced their concerns that if there were any cost overruns on phase one of the project there would be insufficient funding for phase two and the northern sections of the new line would not be built.

The report is highly critical of the methodology used by the government to justify the project and recommends that the business case should be re-examined, including the potential for cost savings, before the complete project in its current form is given the final go-ahead. Having the London terminus of HS2 at Euston is seen as unnecessary by the committee who recommend instead that Old Oak Common should be used in order to reduce costs.

The Lords are highly critical of the government’s overemphasis on speed and the benefits to business travellers at the expense of the needs of people in the north. They say that if the project was starting now then it should begin in the north and not the south. In order to ensure the safeguarding of much-needed investment in northern rail infrastructure the report calls for funding for the Northern Powerhouse Rail project to be ringfenced and brought forward if at all possible.

The committee received oral evidence from a range of experts including former HS2 chairman Sir Terry Morgan, Nusrat Ghani, secretary of state at the Department for Transport, Clive Maxwell, director general of the high speed and major projects group at the Department for Transport, HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail director Nick Bisson, Bridget Rosewell, commissioner at the National Infrastructure Commission, Ben Still, managing director of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, Simon Warburton, transport strategy director at Transport for Greater Manchester, Transport for the North chief executive Barry White and Tim Wood, Northern Powerhouse Rail director at Transport for the North.

Overall, the report is highly critical of the project and its development and raises a number of issues of concern and makes recommendations including: -

  • Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) is required more urgently than HS2. If HS2 hadn’t started already, the committee would recommend investing in northern rail infrastructure first.
  • HS2 construction should have started in the north. 
  • London will get the benefits well before the north and that’s not what’s needed.
  • HS2 phase two and NPR should be combined as one project.
  • Funding for NPR should be ringfenced. It’s wrong to prioritise HS2 and Crossrail over investment in the north.
  • Significant questions remain around the cost-benefit analysis used to justify HS2.
  • Big questions remain about the stated benefits of the project.
  • New, more robust analysis of the project is urgently needed.
  • Overemphasis on train speed is misplaced and not helpful.
  • Cost savings should be examined further.
  • Redevelopment of Euston should be removed from phase one of the project.
  • London terminus should be Old Oak Common and a new business case should be based on that. 

The committee were keen to stress that the project should be appraised much more on the transformational effect of the new infrastructure than faster speeds. The Lords said that new analysis of the project was needed which takes into account the transformative effects, including allowing for changes in land use, that new infrastructure can bring. This new analysis, alongside the full business case, should be published by the end of 2019, says the committee.

Click here to download the House of Lords report Rethinking HS2 and the associated evidence given.

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