Campaigners against HS2 have hailed a highly critical House of Lords report which claims the government has not made a convincing case for the £50bn scheme.
The Lords Economic Affairs Committee said there are less expensive options than HS2 for solving overcrowding on the railways but these have not been properly reviewed.
It said a complete review of the scheme should be undertaken by the new government after May’s elections and legislation to allow the first phase of the scheme should not be given until important questions raised in the report are satisfactorily answered.
The report has been welcomed by opponents against HS2, with Bucks County Council leader Martin Tett saying it ‘totally vindicates everything we have said from the outset’.
Peers said HS2, which will cut through Aylesbury Vale, was supposed to rebalance the economy but it is London rather than the Midlands or the North that is likely to be the biggest beneficiary from HS2.
The first phase of HS2, from London to Birmingham, is due to open in 2026, with a second Y-shaped phase to Manchester and Leeds due for completion around 2032/33, although this date might be brought forward.
In its report, released today, the committee said there was a strong case for improving the trans-Pennine links (the so-called HS3 option) or building the second phase of HS2 first.
Both of these options would be a better way of rebalancing the economy than constructing the London-Birmingham phase.
The report suggests that the huge public subsidy to HS2, an estimated £31.5bn, conflicts with the Government’s declared objective of making rail less dependent on public subsidy.
The committee argues that such large expenditure ‘should be considered against the background of financial restraint’.
At £50bn HS2 will be one of the most expensive infrastructure projects ever undertaken in the UK but the Government have not yet made a convincing case for why it is necessaryCommittee chairman Lord Hollick
Committee chairman Lord Hollick said: “At £50bn HS2 will be one of the most expensive infrastructure projects ever undertaken in the UK but the Government have not yet made a convincing case for why it is necessary.
“The Committee are supportive of investment in rail infrastructure, but are not convinced that HS2 as currently proposed is the best way to deliver that investment. The Government are basing the justification for HS2 on two factors – increased rail capacity and rebalancing the UK economy; we have not seen the evidence that it is the best way to deliver either.
“The Government have not carried out a proper assessment of whether alternative ways of increasing capacity are more cost effective than HS2.
“Full information on railway usage has not been made publicly available by the Government on grounds of commercial sensitivity. The plausibility of the Government’s claim that there are current long distance capacity constraints and also its forecast of future passenger demand are difficult to assess without full access to current railway usage. The investment of £50bn investment of public money demands nothing less than full transparency.
“In terms of rebalancing, London is likely to be the main beneficiary from HS2. Investment in improving rail links in the North of England might deliver much greater economic benefit at a fraction of the cost of HS2.
“We have set out a number of important questions on HS2 that the Government must now provide detailed answers to. Parliament should not approve the enabling legislation that will allow HS2 work to begin until we have satisfactory answers to these key questions.”
Martin Tett, county council leader and chairman of 51m, an alliance of local authorities which presented evidence to the committee, said: “This report totally vindicates everything we have said from the outset.
“In the interests of the public purse and the country’s future, the government needs to seriously reconsider its priorities. What does the UK really need? A £50bn vanity project, which this report recognises will benefit London more than anywhere else, or meaningful alternative investments which will create jobs and regenerate areas of the country which need it most?
“The next government and HS2 Ltd must go back to the drawing board and rethink the entire project. It’s too costly, and the consequences of getting it wrong are too far-reaching not to take this last opportunity to act in the best interests of the country.”
Stop HS2 campaign manager Joe Rukin said: “We very much welcome the findings of this report, as the Lords have paid attention to what so many of us have been saying for five years about the case for HS2, and have concluded that there isn’t a case for HS2.
“On every single issue to do with the economics of HS2: whether it be the fact it would need a massive subsidy, that it will only be for the rich, that there are better cheaper ways of upgrading rail infrastructure, that HS2 will benefit London at the expense of the North, that the modelling is out of date and has been used to manufacture the right result whilst supressing the real data, they have agreed with everything we have been saying for five years. This is surely another nail in the coffin of HS2, which is going to be a massively toxic issue at the upcoming election, as by continuing to support HS2, politicians only demonstrate how out of touch they are.”
A Department for Transport spokesman said the case for HS2 was ‘crystal clear’ and claimed it would have a ‘transformational effect’.
“It is a vital part of the government’s long-term economic plan, strongly supported by Northern and Midland cities, alongside our plans for better east-west rail links confirmed in the Northern Transport Strategy last week.
“Demand for long distance rail travel has doubled in the past 15 years. It is crucial we press ahead with delivering HS2 on time and budget and we remain on track to start construction in 2017.”