Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin has been in Leeds today, spinning his heart out to relaunch HS2 yet again, even claiming that being at least a year late when he eventually announces the final Phase 2 route, he will actually be early! Despite it seeming that what swung the election being fear of an SNP-Labour agreement in Government, at least south of the border, he claimed that the result was a massive vote of confidence for HS2 and therefore the argument had been won.
This was one of many gems in an Orwellian “War is Peace” style of speech. Mr McLoughlin was certain that HS2 still has cross party support, which seems to suggest he has missed that the third party at Westminster are now the SNP, and that they don’t seem particularly happy about what is going on with HS2, or the very real possibility that Labour may elect an HS2 sceptic as leader. In his speech, he stated that “Controversy needn’t be a sign that the decisions you’ve taken are wrong”, so if all this were indeed the case, it seems bizarre that he has no intention of releasing reports from the Major Projects Authority which have assessed how well (badly) HS2 is going or updating the current projected costs. If the argument has been won, there should be no issue is releasing this data.
Whilst the author of the now infamous KPMG admitted that HS2 would not create jobs, but move them around, Mr McLoughlin stuck by his claims that only 3 in 10 of the jobs created by HS2 would be in London. He of course neglected to mention that these jobs forecast to be ‘created’ are the handful of low-paid jobs predicted to be created by Burger King, WH Smith and the like at the stations, and have nothing to do with the supposed spin-off benefits of the project.
The oddest thing he said was that he wanted to get Phase 2 ready quicker than planned, with an announcement on the route due out in ‘autumn’, with the idea being that a standalone bill could be presented ‘soon’ just for the Lichfield-Crewe stretch of Phase 2 (though sources have told Stop HS2 that the DfT were still considering doing this part of the route as an Additional Provision to the Phase 1 Bill as recently as two weeks ago). In stating this, Mr McLoughlin seems to again pre-empted his decision (one he keeps claiming he hasn’t made) about whether HS2 should go to Crewe or Stoke-on-Trent.
His statement about the route being announced in ‘autmun’ is odd of course because history tells us that when it comes to the Phase 2, HS2 Ltd seems to have a very flexible definition of “autumn”.
The Phase 2 route consultation ended in January 2014 and back then, we were expecting an announcement in ‘autumn’. Well, it now seems this was always true, it’s just that HS2 Ltd and the DfT didn’t specify which autumn it would be!