In a private court hearing held yesterday (1st November 2012) in the build up to the Judicial Reviews which will be held into HS2 from December 3rd, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has refused to release the passenger numbers and future forecasts for the West Coast Mainline. More information will come out next week about the disclosure order, when the full order is produced. The reason that 51m, the umbrella group representing councils up and down the line, wanted the real data is that it could show if their proposed alternative to HS2 would work.
What has happened following the High Court decision yesterday, the Secretary of State has conceded that:
The passenger loading data sought is the clearest evidence of current capacity constraints; and the data itself is likely to have provided strong support to 51m’s argument that the optimised alternative was capable of meeting all current capacity requirements. However, the Secretary of State has not made any concession in relation to the information and a decision about future capacity; all of this remains to be argued in December.
Why, given the recent farce with the West Coast Mainline franchise, the DfT want to keep this information secret remains a mystery. Commercial confidentiality is cited as the reason, despite the fact you would hope all bidders for the franchise were provided with this data. At a session of the Transport Select Committee on Wednesday, McLoughlin said he could not reveal the reasons why Virgin were allowed to keep operating the WCML on a temporary basis, the head DfT civil servant said he did not see any figures until the franchise process was complete, and a report into the fiasco would not be published, all for the reasons of commercial confidentiality.
Chiltern District Council Leader Nick Rose told BBC Three Counties;
“We know that the data was used in the consideration of the WCML fiasco and frankly we are not convinced that the DfT are any better at adding up their sums now than they were on that one. It is good news for us and they must be extremely irritated by this.”
Joe Rukin campaign coordinator for Stop HS2 said;
“We simply cannot understand why the passenger numbers and forecasts on the West Coast Mainline remain a state secret. This Government has talked the talk with a transparency agenda and you would have thought with what has happened with the franchising farce that they would want to be more open about the whole thing. The longer this goes on without the release of this data, the more the whole thing stinks.”