Former chair of HS2 Ltd Sir Terry Morgan appeared before the Lords Economic Affairs Committee on Tuesday, and demonstrated exactly why last summer he was chair of HS2 Ltd for about as long as an extra strong mint lasts, displaying the sort of honesty about the HS2 project that is very much frowned upon, and the sort of genuine assessment of how things are going that the HS2 and DfT communications teams usually spend all day dismissing.
Without doubt the biggest admission he made was over the cost of the project. When questioned about the about the validity of the official £56bn price tag which has been repeatedly challenged by experts, he philosophically assessed the cost of the project saying that staff at HS2 Ltd “have a lot of work to do” and that “everybody has their own guesstimate”. When the chair of the committee specifically said that surely he must know, he replied: “I don’t, nobody knows yet. Nobody knows actually what the number is”.
— Louise Butcher (@LouiseBTS) January 22, 2019
Seeming to confirm the possibility that HS2 CEO Mark Thurston foreshadowed recently; that the speed and numbers of trains might have to be cut to save money, Morgan stated that “The HS2 team will have a challenge around what I would describe as ‘cost, time and not least scope’ of the proposed high-speed rail network,” adding that “something has to give”. To further prepare the ground for which way that is going to go, he claimed that “Most people actually regret calling it High-Speed Two”.
One thing that Morgan certainly thinks should ‘give’ is the idea that HS2 cannot open before Euston is ready, saying HS2 should initially terminate at Old Oak Common because of the mess that Euston currently is and will continue to be, which he put as “It’s very, very complicated in terms of impact and disruption. I mean, there’s extraordinary money involved to just get the ground cleared – just to get it started. There are tens of thousands of bodies. It is hugely challenging, more challenging than anything that could have been estimated before. The impact on the public is huge.”
This week, HS2 Ltd delayed awarding construction contracts for both Old Oak and Euston stations.
— Penny Gaines (@Penny_Gaines) January 22, 2019
Morgan went on to underline the ‘mission creep’ Liz Truss warned HS2 is heading toward, and confirmed the next attempt to change the narrative around HS2 will be to claim it is needed for ‘regeneration opportunities’, saying; “The regeneration opportunities are just phenomenal, they are just so expansive. You build a railway, you have regeneration follow it.” Perhaps the most telling thing in terms of where this is going is that when Lord Darling asked if the economic case would collapse if there were fewer trains, Morgan replied that “The regeneration effects are underestimated” and that in the current re-fiddling of the HS2 business case wider benefits will be factored in, meaning they will simply be able to pick a number out of the air.
Morgan flanneling in response to Darling. Basically he is trying to say “Everyone I have met at all these events that @HS2Ltd have organised to promote #HS2 all think HS2 is a brilliant idea. Everyone loves it, what’s your problem!?” @LordsEconCom
— Joe Rukin (@joerukin) January 22, 2019
The greatest concern about the project came from former chancellor Lord Darling, who supported the project in Government, but changed his mind about HS2 being a good idea in 2013. Echoing exactly what we at Stop HS2 have been saying for nine years, he admitted that HS2 was not the product of investigation into what was needed, but it was decided it should happen and justified afterwards. He said he believed smaller projects along the line would have a better.
Darling reminded DfT mandarins that he was not opposed to large projects, as he was the one to sign off Crossrail, but that this time it might have been better to invest in delivering benefits across the country “Given all inherent risks, might it have been better spending the money in smaller perhaps less grandiose projects?”
Darling went on to trash the justification for HS2 by saying “No-one could have envisaged how the internet would change peoples working patterns. This makes HS2 such a 1990s idea” before dismissing the chance HS2 will overcome the obvious setbacks by asserting: “This thing is never going to get to the North of England in any of our lifetimes.”
Lord Darling says what we’ve always said; #HS2 was not the product of investigation into what was needed, it was just decided it should happen and justified afterwards
— Stop HS2 (@stophs2) January 22, 2019
One thing that very much came across throughout the session was that those involved with HS2 have absolutely no interest whatsoever in what anyone who is not involved with HS2 has to say: When Morgan was asked about the secret government report from the IPA said HS2 was ‘fundamentally flawed’ and could go massively over budget, he said he didn’t agree with it, but after further questioning admitted he had never read it; when Clive Maxwell from the DfT was asked about the report that said HS2 could save £8bn by not going to Euston at all, he said he ‘didn’t recognise’ the number, before Lord Forsyth of Drumlean got him to admit that that meant didn’t care for the suggestion and never bothered to check the validity of it; Nus Ghani, the Minister, the elected representative who has responsibility for HS2, said that she was ‘too busy’ to watch the BBC Panorama programme into the way HS2 Ltd have been swindling the public, when it was broadcast just before she broke up for her two-week Christmas holidays; whilst Morgan claimed the unpaid seizure of property that programme covered only happened in the ‘early days’ at HS2 Ltd, without accepting that it was standard practice during his tenure, and nothing has changed since he left.
— Kirsty Gibbs (@KirstyGibbs11) January 22, 2019
Whilst there have been some terrible ministers in charge of HS2 in the past, Nus Ghani showed herself to probably be the worst. It wasn’t that she was particularly more incompetent than others, and like many of those who have gone before she could only stick to the script she had been given, or at least try to. It was that she made absolutely no effort to come across like she actually cared. And we don’t mean ‘cared’ in the sense of showing compassion, though unbelievably she managed to make Simon Burns look positively warm-hearted, we mean ‘cared’ in the sense of actually giving a toss about displaying she was capable of doing her job, or even understanding what that job is.
The best way of describing this is; you know there are some people who say “I’m rubbish at maths” and for some inexplicable reason they think that is funny and something to be proud of? Well replace “maths” with “being a minister”, and you’ve got Nus Ghani. She genuinely seemed to realise that she was totally out of her depth and not care about it in the slightest: laughing again and again at both getting things wrong and the concept she should have cared that Panorama did a programme on her remit; repeating lines such as “We are committed to the budget, that is the budget, that is it” without showing even the slightest sign of convincing herself, let alone anyone else; insisting there are 7000 people are working on HS2, when even HS2 Ltd will only stretch as far as saying it ‘supports’ 7000 jobs; and best of all saying that “If we are to respond to every whistle blower from HS2 we’d be here for a very long time” before Lord Forsyth of Drumlean pointed out to her; “I thought it was Government policy always to respond to whistle blowers?
Sorry, you what @Nus_Ghani? You’re minister for #HS2 and their treatment of people along the line led to @BBCPanorama feeling it was serious enough for them to cover, and you couldn’t be bothered to watch it? Was it you intention to prove you don’t care? Because you just did.
— Stop HS2 (@stophs2) January 22, 2019
The worst part about it all is the minimal interest the press showed in these massively serious issues, whilst we are sure that a couple of idiot politicians and vested interest lobbyists stamping their feet and saying ‘I want’, when it comes to Phase 2b, is sure to get blanket coverage.