In July, before I became Business Secretary, I held a debate in Parliament calling on the Government to urgently commit to a full review of the business case for HS2 before the Notice to Proceed is granted.
Following that debate, I am delighted that the Government has announced that Doug Oakervee, supported by Lord Berkeley, will be conducting a full independent review of HS2 in the coming weeks and months.
The terms of reference for the review are rigorous and wide-ranging, and include, but are not limited to:
whether HS2 Ltd is in a position to deliver the project effectively;
whether HS2 Ltd’s latest estimates of costs and schedule are realistic;
whether the assumptions behind the business case, for instance on passenger numbers and train frequencies, are realistic, including the location and interconnectivity of the stations with other transport systems; and,
the direct cost of reprioritising, cancelling or de-scoping the project.
I know that many constituents will welcome this news, particularly given the statement this week by the Transport Secretary that the Chairman of HS2 Ltd does not believe that the current scheme design can be delivered within the budget of £55.7 billion. Adjusting by construction cost inflation, the range in estimated costs for the project is now equivalent to £81 to £88 billion in 2019 prices, against a budget equivalent to £62.4 billion.
Regarding schedule, the Chairman does not believe the current schedule of 2026 for initial services on Phase One is realistic. In line with lessons from other major transport infrastructure projects, his advice proposes a range of dates for the start of service. He recommends 2028 to 2031 for Phase One - with a staged opening, starting with initial services between London Old Oak Common and Birmingham Curzon Street, followed by services to and from London Euston later. He expects Phase 2b, the full high-speed line to Manchester and Leeds, to open between 2035 and 2040.
Many constituents who have contacted me about the Oakervee Review and the Chairman’s comments have asked for the ongoing HS2 enabling works in Northamptonshire to be paused, subject to the review’s final recommendations, to prevent possibly unnecessary disruption to the surrounding countryside.
I have therefore written to the Chief Executive of HS2 Ltd, Mark Thurston, to make this request on their behalf.
I will be following the review closely, and look forward to reporting back to constituents as soon as possible. As ever, please do not hesitate to contact me with any queries or concerns.