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HS2 bosses accused of ‘fiddling the figures’ by review panel deputy chairman

By Trevor Marshallsea and Sophie Morris, PA

Those in charge of the HS2 project have been been accused of “fiddling the figures” by the deputy chairman of the project’s review panel.

Parliament was “seriously misled” over the costs of HS2, which would be poor value for money and bad for the environment, the former Labour transport spokesman Lord Berkeley has said.

He also accused the project of being “completely out of control financially”.

But a HS2 Ltd spokesperson said there have been many individual views expressed about the HS2 project, of which Lord Berkeley’s is just one.

Lord Berkeley’s comments come after his hard-hitting 70-page dissenting report into the high speed rail proposal was published, listing several grave concerns. Chief among them is the blow-out of estimated costs.

HS2 route
(PA Graphics)

The network was initially expected to cost £50.1 billion. Latest estimates by HS2 Ltd – the private company in charge of the project – put the price at £88 billion. But Lord Berkeley says independent analysis arrives at a figure of at least £107.92 billion.

“I believe that Parliament has been misled because the costs were clearly known to the department, and I believe ministers, three or four years ago – there’s a lot of evidence to that.

“The costs at that stage, they were saying well they were probably over £100bn. Now I think the figure which I believe is about right is £107bn. It’s an enormous figure and Parliament should have had an opportunity to debate this.

“This project is probably two or three times over budget even before the construction has started. Now that’s a completely different level of cost overrun and it does need looking at again,” Lord Berkeley told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday.

He added: “For me, HS2, if it were almost cancelled except for the bit in the Northern Powerhouse area and replaced by about half the investment on local services, local rail network in the north and the Midlands, it would be much better for everybody who lives up there.

“Saving 50 billion at this stage, I think, is quite something that we’ll want to look at.”

An impression of the planned Curzon Street station in central Birmingham
An impression of the planned Curzon Street station in central Birmingham (Grimshaw Architects/PA)

But responding to Lord Berkeley’s comments, Director of the Northern Powerhouse project Henri Murison said they “sound like the views of someone who has always been a sceptic of HS2 simply making the points they’ve made before”.

He added: “He accused the Government and others of misleading Parliament which is wrong, but he also gets the numbers wrong.”

Regional transport organisation Midlands Connect criticised the Labour peer’s report.

Director Maria Machancoses said: “Lord Berkeley’s suggestion that the Government should consider building only small sections of HS2 in the north of England shows a disgraceful ignorance of how important the scheme is to the Midlands.

“Contrary to Lord Berkeley’s view that the benefits of HS2 have been overstated, I believe firmly that they have been vastly underestimated.”

Lord Berkeley said he wrote his “dissenting” or “minority” report because he disagreed with, and was not given the chance to amend, some conclusions of the draft report overseen by Doug Oakervee, the former HS2 Ltd chairman appointed by Boris Johnson to lead the review into “whether and how we should proceed” with the project.

In his report, Lord Berkeley says he wrote to Mr Oakervee to detail his concerns with the review, including “a bias towards accepting HS2’s evidence in preference to those of others”.

Lord Berkeley concluded HS2 was “the wrong and expensive solution” to providing better North-South intercity services, adding that it would be “poor value for money”.

Phase one of HS2 is planned to run between London and Birmingham. It was initially planned to launch in 2026, but a recent report by HS2 Ltd stated that this could be pushed back until 2031.

An HS2 Ltd spokesman said: “There have been many individual views expressed about the HS2 project, however we await the publication of the Government’s official review.

“HS2 Ltd has provided full cooperation to Mr Oakervee and his review team, and if the Government decides to proceed we have a highly skilled team in place ready to build Britain’s new railway.

“Investment in a state-of-the-art high speed line is critical for the UK’s low-carbon transport future, will provide much needed rail capacity up and down the country, and is integral to rail projects in the North and Midlands which will help rebalance the UK economy.”

Tim Wood, Northern Powerhouse rail director at Transport for the North, said: “Whilst we appreciate Lord Berkeley’s strong support for investment in northern infrastructure, we’re concerned about the view that the North doesn’t need HS2.

“More rail capacity and better connectivity will be vital if we’re going to get people out of their cars and encourage more sustainable travel.”