A Government move to block the release of a report which said the £50 billion HS2 line is ‘in doubt’ is illegal, campaigners have said.
An annual report by the Major Projects Authority gave the scheme an amber/red rating, given to projects considered ‘in doubt, with major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas’ and requiring ‘urgent action’ to solve the problems.
However, the full report was never released, leading to a ruling from the Information Commissioner that it should be published.
But the transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin MP, today announced he had blocked the publication using freedom of information powers ‘in the public interest’.
Mr McLoughlin said the report was compiled using interviewees who had been assured of confidentiality and disclosing their comments would undermine future reviews of major governmental projects.
Anti-HS2 campaigners slammed the move, saying the Government should not be allowed to use the power and was ‘hiding the truth’.
Aylesbury MP David Lidington this month wrote to Francis Maude, the minister responsible for the Major Projects Authority, saying his constituents were concerned about the report not being released.
Mr McLoughlin said today: “The major projects review was conducted to inform the development of the HS2 project.
“The public interest in ensuring that projects of this scale, importance and cost are properly controlled and overseen is very high indeed.
“The assurance of confidentiality is important in the conduct of the review.
“In my view, there is nothing in the nature or content of this particular report which outweighs that strong public interest against disclosure.”
The original report was put together in November 2011.
The Government decision is now likely to be challenged in a Judicial Review.
Campaigners say the Government can only use the power for internal communications and because the report was shared with HS2 Ltd this was no longer applicable.
Dr Paul Thornton, who brought the original freedom of information request to get the report released, said: “The Information Commissioner said in the course of the appeal that the facts of the case had changed when it was discovered that the MPA report had been shared with HS2 Ltd.
“At that point, the exception claimed by the Cabinet Office could not be engaged.
“The veto can only be used when there is a dispute over public interest, and that cannot be used in this case because the report is not an internal communication.
“This is a delaying tactic on the part of government as they know the decision is likely to go to Judicial Review.
“This should not be necessary as Parliament should be scrutinising this arbitrary decision and ensuring that it is overturned, as it creates an alarming precedent.”
Stop HS2 campaign manager Joe Rukin said it was ‘disgraceful’ that all the information was not being released.
Mr Rukin said: “This just proves that there has been, and continues to be an agenda from government to deceive MPs and the public with spin and dismiss any independent information showing just how bad the HS2 project is.
“It also shows that this government’s supposed ‘transparency agenda’ is as transparent as a lump of coal.
“What is the point in having reports on projects if they cannot be used to inform the debate around them?”