Be brave and scrap HS2, PM told
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.”