On Sunday, the Conservatives unveiled their manifesto: with a clear but uninformative policy on HS2.
We’ve noticed that different journalists can conclude wholly different views of the future of HS2 after speaking to Boris Johnson, and the Conservative manifesto is about as informative.
“HS2 is a great ambition, but will now cost at least £81 billion and will not reach Leeds or Manchester until as late as 2040. We will consider the findings of the Oakervee review into costs and timings and work with leaders of the Midlands and the North to decide the optimal outcome.”
There are also policies to “build Northern Powerhouse Rail between Leeds and Manchester”, to “invest in the Midlands Rail Hub,” and to “restore many of the Beeching lines”.
What does that actually mean?
It’s possible Boris Johnson and his team have already decided on HS2 but don’t want to say for fear of losing votes. It’s also possible that are waiting to see what Oakervee has to say in the final version and then decide, with the intention of following his recommendations (although it just says they will ‘consider’). Another possibility is that they will see what the co-chair to the review, Tony Berkeley, says. Another possibility is that they will hand the decision to Midlands Connect and the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, claiming that they are the ‘leaders’ on the matter.
In essence, there is a policy to put in the manifesto, but absolutely no clarity as to what will happen to HS2 after December 13th.
There are however three things to point out.
Firstly, HS2 does not have Notice to Proceed, so while HS2 Ltd can demolish and destroy, they can’t start construction until they have it. Notice to Proceed is over a year late, and it requires a new economic case, a demonstration of affordability and of management capability (none of which is in place).
Secondly, Boris Johnson did set off a review into HS2, but he installed as chair, the former chair of HS2 Ltd.
Finally the Oakervee review draft was leaked the day after the Brexit Party withdrew from Conservative held seats – ie most of the constituencies along the route of Phase 1. The Brexit Party have a clear commitment to cancelling HS2 and so would have posed a real risk to MPs in many HS2 affected areas.
If your priority in this election is to vote for a party which will cancel HS2, should you vote for the Conservatives? We would pose another question in answer: do you trust Boris Johnson on HS2?