September has not been a great month for HS2.
Early on, Simon Kirby quit his job as CEO of HS2 Ltd to join Rolls Royce. Then towards the end of September Lord O’Neil, minister for the Northern Powerhouse resigned from the Government. Lord O’Neill was brought in as a junior Treasury minister by the previous administration.
Prior to his appointment, he had been sceptical about HS2, believing that improving east – west links, i.e. HS3 was more important. It is possible that the Prime Minister was not comfortable with such a key player being less than wholehearted in his support for HS2. The alternative is that the Northern Powerhouse may not be seen as such a high priority.
Elsewhere, two Commons Committees expressed serious concerns about the project.
A report from the Public Accounts Committee concluded that HS2 has volatile costs and unrealistic timescales. Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the committee commented: “Parliament and the public are still in the dark about crucial details – not least when the railway will open and how much it is expected to cost and precisely where it will go.”
Andrew Tyrie, Chair of the Commons Treasury Select Committee wrote to the Secretary of State for Transport saying the case for HS2 is not supported by the numbers when it comes to capacity and speed, and that out of all the projects proposed by Government, HS2 is the weakest.
Back in July HS2 Ltd proposed a new route for the high-speed line through South Yorkshire only now to admit that the revision had been put forward without full consideration of noise pollution or mass housing demolition.
And any discussion about HS2 always come back to money…and lots of it.
This month we learnt that the project has already cost taxpayers more than £2bn without one inch of the track being laid.
This news came in the aftermath of a report from the Adam Smith Institute describing the high speed line as ‘economically irresponsible’ and saying ‘the numbers simply do not stack up’.
The think tank said the £56bn earmarked for the project would be better spent on building quicker train links between Manchester and other Northern cities like Leeds to boost the economy in the North of England.
A sentiment the now departed Lord O’Neill would no doubt endorse.