Following the increasing political rhetoric concerning HS2, the Transport Committee have ignored their previous concerns about HS2 to deliver a ‘cheerleading whitewash’ for the project. Their report urges the Department for Transport to spin harder to promote the project, suggesting they should abandon standard methods for appraising the project to bolster the case for HS2, and that they should start telling the public it will ‘only’ cost £28bn, opposed to the official estimate of £50bn.
Despite saying the DfT should use a lower cost estimate for HS2, the committee advocate additional spending around the project on: reports to further bolster the case for HS2, helping local authorities to develop redevelopment strategies around HS2, and to develop better links to HS2. The report also says HS2 will not starve other projects of funding, but at the same time it recommends spending more money on HS2 more quickly by starting to build the northern end sooner.
The committee also praise a recent report, which KPMG were paid £242,000 for to invent a brand new untested methodology to support HS2, which the report authors admitted ‘Lacks firm statistical foundation’, and which Henry Overman, a professor of economic geography at LSE dismissed by saying; “
In 2011 the previous Transport Committee report on HS2 asked if it is affordable, stating the robustness of the economic case assessment was ‘disappointing’. It also raised significant questions about the claimed ability to provide 18 trains per hour, concluded that claims of substantial carbon-reduction benefits do not stand up to scrutiny, and called for clarity on the policy context, the assessment of alternatives, the financial and economic case, the environmental impacts, connections to Heathrow and the justification for the particular route being proposed before reaching a decision on HS2. Despite the current turnaround in the position of the committee, none of this clarity was provided before the decision to proceed from then Transport Secretary Justine Greening in January 2012.
Stop HS2 Campaign Manager Joe Rukin said:
“Unlike the Public Accounts Committee and Treasury Select Committee hearings on HS2, it was clear that this inquiry was going to be a cheerleading whitewash when the Transport Committee only called people who support HS2 to give evidence. Despite the official cost of HS2 standing at £50bn, the committee want to pretend it is £28bn, even though they said it would be £34bn in 2011. In saying this and telling the DfT they should abandon their standard assessments to improve the case for HS2, they are effectively ordering the Government to ‘spin harder’ on HS2.”
“It is totally contradictory for the committee to say HS2 won’t starve other projects of investment at the same time as saying Government should spend more money on it more quickly by building the northern and southern ends at the same time! Those two statements can’t be reconciled and just demonstrate that this report serves no other purpose than to be a cynical attempt to bring round a sceptical public.”
“The level of complete denial in this report shows it is all about spin and trying to con the public, against the reality that the case for HS2 is falling apart. Even KMPG admitted their report lacked ‘a firm statistical foundation’, and it has been thoroughly rubbished by independent analysis, but this committee have swallowed it hook line and sinker.”
“The committee seem to have forgotten what they said in 2011 when they called for more information about HS2. Not only has none of that information been forthcoming, but now the Cabinet Office are trying to block the publication of damaging reports on HS2 for political reasons with yesterdays’ hearing called off at the last minute. The whole thing stinks.”