Sam Laidlaw, who was put in charge of the investigation into the West Coast Mainline franchise fiasco, has told the Transport Select Committee that the same unheeded warnings were made over the franchising process as have been made over HS2, just as the Conservative Transport Group asked Secretary of State Patrick McLoughlin to rethink plans, stating that the HS2 route and station modelling is “Unsound and disastrously flawed.”
Appearing at the Transport Select Committee on Tuesday (18th December), Mr Laidlaw revealed that the Major Projects Authority (MPA) had given the franchise process an ‘Amber-Red’ rating in March this year, defined as “The Successful delivery of the project is in doubt, with major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas. Urgent action is needed to ensure these are addressed, and whether resolution is feasible.” Laidlaw said it was “Clearly troubling” that just four months later the project was rated as ‘Green’ this July, even though few changes had been made.
HS2 received the same ‘Amber-Red’ rating from the MPA, but it is not known when this happened. This fact only became public as a result of direct questioning of Department for Transport civil servants by Margaret Hodge MP at the Public Accounts Committee on April 18th 2012. No details of either report have ever been published. The Cabinet Office had initially intended to publish an annual report for the MPA in December 2011, which was then officially put back to July 2012, but there is still no sign of it. The Cabinet Office website still says the annual report will be available ‘soon’.
If this were not bad enough, on Wednesday the Conservative Transport Group wrote to Patrick McLoughlin demanding he rethink the whole plan for HS2. The group has said that no decision on a HS2 route should be made before a decision on a hub airport, due in 2015, and suggests further investigation of an M1 route as proposed by Railfuture. Railfuture advocate slowing the operating speed to 186mph (like Eurostar) which would allow an M1 alignment and significantly reduce to build costs, as the necessary tunnelling would drop from the current 25 miles to 6 miles.
The letter states;
“The route chosen is the wrong route for the simple reason that it has polarised opinion and seriously damaged the case for high-speed rail with the public. The technical issue of whether or not it is the best route for the highest line speed loses all its value when set against the massive organised opposition to HS2.”
Penny Gaines, Chair of Stop HS2 said;
“There were a number of serious flaws in the WCML franchise process which were glossed over by Department for Transport staff. It is vital that any large scale, long term project – whether it is the WCML franchise or HS2 – should be subject to the closest scrutiny by senior civil servants and ministers. This did not happen with the WCML franchise until Virgin’s judicial review. During the HS2 judicial reviews, it was revealed that the very basis for the HS2 proposal is on shaky grounds. Similarly, both the HS2 project and WCML franchise have had amber/red warnings from the Major Projects Authority. This should be a wake-up call to the Department for Transport and they should cancel HS2 as soon as possible.”
Stop HS2 Campaign Coordinator Joe Rukin said;
“It is great that the Conservative Transport Group has noticed the ‘massive organised opposition to HS2.’, but Patrick McLoughlin needs to know that it is not just about the chosen route and we will not just go away. More and more politicians are noticing the fundamental flaws in the HS2 plans, which are a result of it being a rushed job from a Government department which is clearly rudderless and out of control, and with every revelation our campaign becomes stronger.”
“We know that the same figures were used in the West Coast farce and the HS2 forecasts. We know that both projects have been put on red alert and the warnings have been ignored. We know there are more revelations to come, but we already know the West Coast was a complete disaster, and we are absolutely certain HS2 would be a disaster of exponential proportions if the Government do not see sense before it is too late.”