How good was the process of developing HS2?

Justine Greening told the Transport Select Committee that she was going to make a rational decision on HS2. As part of that decision making she should have looked into the background of the proposal to see whether the HS2 Ltd proposal is part of an integrated transport strategy (it isn’t).

In October 2011 – before the debate on HS2 organised by Andrea Leadsom – the Freshfield Foundation sent a report (Freshfield Foundation report for MPs) on the HS2 process to all MPs, including Justine Greening, who at the time was in the Treasury.

According to the accompanying letter (HS2 Case Study open letter to MPs) they wrote the report because they wanted “to draw attention to material weaknesses in the HS2 decision‐making process.”

They look at the background in the three years before the 2010 HS2 announcement and point out that a long‐term strategy for the railways was set out by the DfT in the document “Delivering A Sustainable Railway” (summary) (DfT July 2007).

The Freshfield Foundation says

The report goes on to say “….rail demand cannot be predicted with any confidence over a 20‐year time horizon” and it later explains some of the reasons for this, concluding that “It is therefore necessary to have a flexible inter‐urban rail strategy that can be adapted if long‐term demand actually grows significantly faster or more slowly than currently forecast.”

The Freshfield Foundation report goes on to say that within a few months the Department for Transport produced a document Towards A Sustainable Transport System (DfT October 2007).

In a short analysis of capacity issues in the London‐Birmingham‐Manchester corridor it gave a different analysis of the problem to be addressed [compared to the July paper] and the right strategy for dealing with it.

(The full name of the October paper is “Towards a Sustainable Transport System, Supporting Economic Growth in a Low Carbon World”. But the HS2 proposal is carbon neutral.)

The Freshfield Foundation report continues to trace the history behind the proposal through various stages.

They say

In January 2009 the Government set up a study group (HS2 Ltd) to look at the case for high speed rail. The DfT produced a report on high speed trains in March 2010. It concluded that, subject to consultation, the London ‐ Birmingham route for HS2 should go ahead. The report refers to the 2006‐7 strategy documents but is not consistent with them (eg it claims increasing connectivity (ie reducing journey times) as a strategic objective).

They also point out a number of problems with the way HS2 Ltd developed the process.  As they say in their conclusion:

Even if proceeding with HS2 now did fit in with the strategy, the business plan is flawed. There are weaknesses in the way benefits to travellers have been valued and the high level of uncertainty about making predictions about such a complex and long‐term project have not been acknowledged. The credibility of the 2011 Consultation Document has been compromised because some of the information has come from sources with apparent conflicts of interest.

Like the Freshfield Foundation say, the process of developing the HS2 proposal is flawed.

Some people might argue that these problems don’t matter now if the design of the next phase is done ‘properly’. That view is not valid, because building a railway between Manchester and Birmingham, or between Leeds and Birmingham is part of the same project as the Birmingham to London section.

Because the first phase is not part of an integrated transport strategy, no matter how good the development process of the second phase, it will not result in a well designed and thought through strategy. And HS2 Ltd won’t begin construction until after Crossrail is complete – that’s due in 2017 – so there is no need for hasty planning now.

Going ahead with HS2 means going ahead with a flawed project.

That’s why Stop HS2 think it should be stopped.

(Stop HS2 has previously discussed some of NEF”s criticisms of the way HS2 Ltd developed the HS2 proposal – read more here.)

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