It’s hardly surprising that the Spending Review announcement was seen as a good day to bury the bad news that the projected cost of HS2 has now soared to £42.6bn which amounts to £50bn if rolling stock is included. This is pretty catastrophic for the project – it effectively means that if the business case is recalibrated, it will barely come up with a benefit cost ratio of 1 -1 which under normal circumstances would spell the death knell for the scheme.
Don’t be fooled by the rubbish about this extra merely being contingency added to previous estimates since they, too, included contingency, a Treasury requirement of all schemes.
It is quite astonishing, therefore, that it still receives all party support at a time when very basic support for transport, far more effective in terms of ensuring people get out of their cars, is being cut. There would be so many better things to do with £50bn, like ensuring all our towns and cities had good public transport systems, with lots of trams – all of which would be much better value than the Edinburgh scheme I saw yesterday – modern frequent bus services, good cycle infrastructure and so on. Supporters of the scheme must be starting to have doubts.
Talking to a senior transport planner the other day, he made it abundantly clear that very few of them believe this is a worthwhile scheme. They did a straw poll of how the money would be better spent, and the top two ideas were a nationwide fast broadband network and a series of tram and guided busway schemes in towns and cities across the country.
The gobbleydegook from HS2 Ltd suggests they are floundering. Here is what Alison Munro, the Chief Executive said: ‘We have managed the scope for Phase 1 to arrive at a reference design that meets the objectives set by DfT for HS2 and have done so broadly within the cost and contingency envelope of £16.3 bn set out by the previous Secretary of State in Jan 2012.’ Capice?
As I have said before, the fact that there is all party support means that there is no proper debate on the project. Last night’s Commons vote saw 37 MPs voting for a wrecking amendment on the paving bill, but I suspect there is much more dissent on both sides of the House. It is time for more MPs to speak out.