Be brave and scrap HS2, PM told

The Sunday Telegraph - - Front Page - By Ed­ward Mal­nick

BORIS JOHN­SON is be­ing urged to find the “courage” to can­cel or dra­mat­i­cally scale back plans for HS2, with a for­mer head of the Civil Ser­vice and a re­tail ty­coon warn­ing against “throw­ing good money af­ter bad”.

Lord Turn­bull, who was also per­ma­nent sec­re­tary at the Trea­sury, and Lord Wolf­son, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Next, told The Sun­day Tele­graph that the rail line rep­re­sented poor value for money and urged the Prime Min­is­ter to re­di­rect funds in ways that would pro­vide more ben­e­fit to every­day com­muters.

Their in­ter­ven­tions came af­ter Mr John­son was con­fronted over the is­sue at a meet­ing with peers ear­lier this month, at which he is said to have in­di­cated that he was re­luc­tant to scrap the en­tire project.

The Prime Min­is­ter has ac­knowl­edged that the line, which is due to run from Lon­don to Birm­ing­ham and then on to Leeds and Manch­ester, was likely to cost more than £100bil­lion.

He is due to de­cide whether to pur­sue, can­cel or al­ter HS2, af­ter be­ing handed a draft re­view by Dou­glas Oak­ervee, a for­mer chair­man of the project.

Lord Berke­ley, Mr Oak­ervee’s deputy, wrote a dis­sent­ing re­port warn­ing that tax­pay­ers were on course to make a £40bil­lion loss.

An im­mi­nent re­port by the Na­tional Au­dit Of­fice is ex­pected to raise fur­ther

con­cerns. Lord Turn­bull, who was cab­i­net sec­re­tary un­til 2005, is a for­mer mem­ber of the Lords eco­nomic af­fairs com­mit­tee, which called for a ma­jor re­think of HS2 in a re­port to be de­bated on Thurs­day.

He said: “I think the con­clu­sion is that it is bet­ter to re­think this project … The right place to start is in Liver­pool and con­nect all the way through to Hull, link­ing as many of those north­ern cities as you can.

“You need a brave de­ci­sion that an up­grade to the net­work is re­quired, but this HS2 vari­ant of it is not the one which cap­tures the great­est de­vel­op­ment gains.”

Lord Wolf­son, a Con­ser­va­tive peer, said: “Next, like most re­tail busi­nesses, is in all the ma­jor cities and towns in Bri­tain. I think the as­sump­tion that [of­fi­cials] are mak­ing about the value that this will de­liver to those towns just isn’t right.”

He added: “Wast­ing more money in or­der to try to sal­vage money that has been wasted in the past is never a good tac­tic in busi­ness. The sooner you recog­nise your mis­takes and write them off, the bet­ter.

“I of­ten read that busi­nesses are be­hind this and I just don’t know any se­ri­ous busi­ness peo­ple that are.”

‘Wast­ing more money to try to sal­vage money that has been wasted in the past is never a good tac­tic’

Lord Forsyth, the chair­man of the Lords eco­nomic af­fairs com­mit­tee, warned that HS2 would “do lit­tle” to help “long-ne­glected” lo­cal com­muters trav­el­ling into north­ern cities – in­stead ben­e­fit­ing “Lon­don com­muters who use the West Coast Main Line”.

He added: “The HS2 project is a poor re­flec­tion of the UK’s rail in­vest­ment needs.”

An HS2 Ltd spokesman said: “HS2 is the only low-car­bon, shovel-ready in­fra­struc­ture project that will di­vert much-needed in­vest­ment into the North and Mid­lands and help to re­bal­ance the UK econ­omy.”

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