HS2 could be abandoned as review launched
Panel of experts to assess future of the rail project as MPS tell Johnson dropping it will win votes
HS2 could be abandoned, the Government suggested yesterday, as it launched an independent review into the future of the £56billion railway project. The review comes just days after senior Downing Street aides discussed mothballing the project before a potential snap election.
HS2 could be scrapped, the Government suggested yesterday, as it launched an independent review into the future of the controversial £56billion railway project.
The review, which will consider whether the line should be scaled back or scrapped, comes just days after senior Downing Street aides discussed mothballing the project before a potential snap election.
Last night, Conservative MPS welcomed the announcement and claimed that scrapping HS2 would hand Mr Johnson a boost in key marginal seats should he choose to go to the country.
They included David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, who said that “derailing this runaway disaster” would be “a vote winner in any potential general election campaign”.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph today, Mr Davis claims HS2 is a “singularly unpopular policy in constituencies across the UK” and that shelving it would free up billions of pounds for regional infrastructure projects.
First proposed by the last Labour government in 2009, HS2 has long been opposed by dozens of Conservative MPS and continues to divide opinion among the public.
If completed, the railway line would run through the constituencies of 26 sitting Tory MPS, including Uxbridge and South Ruislip – Mr Johnson’s seat.
Last night, a former Cabinet minister said: “HS2 is a white elephant ... a Labour vanity project. It runs through a lot of Tory seats. I imagine everything the Government does at the moment will be calculated according to an imminent general election.
“There is a strong political case for scrapping it. It would certainly help to send out a couple of dozen Tory MPS who are able to say ‘we’ve delivered’.”
Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s chief strategist, raised HS2 during a meeting with Government special advisers last week. According to Whitehall sources, Mr Cummings mentioned the project on Friday during a discussion on wasteful policies that could be scrapped before a potential election.
One insider told The Telegraph that while they had originally considered his remarks to be a “joke”, the launch of the review suggested No10 was taking the prospect more seriously.
Mr Johnson refused to commit to scrapping HS2 during the Tory leadership contest, but has previously stated his opposition to the scheme as mayor of London and as a backbench MP.
In January 2012, he said there was “no point spending this much on something which doesn’t work properly”.
In October 2018, shortly after he resigned as foreign secretary, he told the Conservative Party conference that projects in the North of England “ought to take precedence over HS2”. He has also recently noted that the final cost of the project could be “north of £100bn” and last week ditched the official £56bn price tag insisted on by Theresa May’s administration.
Critics of HS2 have been encouraged by the appointment of Lord Berkeley, one of the project’s fiercest critics, as deputy chairman of the review.
A Labour peer and railway expert, Lord Berkeley has repeatedly attacked HS2 Ltd, as well as challenging the Department for Transport’s cost figures.
He will work alongside Douglas Oakervee, the chairman who previously occupied the same role at HS2 Ltd and was a close ally of Mr Johnson during his time in City Hall.
They will be assisted by a panel of experts, including leading rail figures,
‘There is a strong political case for scrapping it. It would send out Tory MPS able to say “we’ve delivered”’
who will advise ministers on “how and whether” HS2 should proceed.
The review will consider the direct cost of “reprioritising, cancelling or descoping the project”, as well as whether the £56billion estimated cost of the scheme is “realistic”.
A final report will be sent to Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary – with oversight from Mr Johnson and Sajid Javid, the Chancellor – by the autumn.
“The Prime Minister has been clear that transport infrastructure has the potential to drive economic growth, redistribute opportunity and support towns and cities across the UK, but that investments must be subject to continuous assessment of their costs and benefits,” Mr Shapps said.
“That’s why we are undertaking this independent and rigorous review of HS2,” he added.
Concern has been mounting that HS2 cannot be built to its current specification within the £56billion budget. Allan Cook, the chairman of HS2 Ltd, is believed to have written to the Department for Transport warning that the final bill could be as high as £85 billion.