Infrastructure appraisal and transport analytic consultancy CT Think has become the latest in a long line of independent bodies to analyse HS2 and find it to come out wanting. In a study looking at the transparency involved in the decision making process involving four projects, the consultancy found HS2 Ltd to be specifically wanting in the areas of; political statements, objectives and impacts, as quoted below.
Due to the magnitude of the HS2 investment, and the debate between economists regarding the expected benefits, political intervention in the appraisal process is only natural. But ideally, the number crunching should remain as purely technical as possible, and the policy should then influence the appraisal without touching the arithmetics. This principle is not followed in the discussion about the economic benefits of HS2. Politicians take an active role in the debate about the economic theory, and economists take an active role in the political debate. From a public perspective, there is no body that only provides figures based on established economics. This significantly reduces the appearance of a transparent appraisal. This worries me.
A new highquality rail link to Heathrow was originally stated as a key objective of HS2, but later this objective were removed. Environmental benefits and carbon reductions were also originally stated as important objectives, but the evidence gathered indicates no significant environmental benefits (42, 43). There were some conflicting statements about whether or not maximising speed is a key objective. All in all, it appears that the narrative about the objectives of HS2 has been adjusted over the years to where benefits seem stronger. This worries me.
Experts are divided on many of the stated benefits of HS2. There is a debate about the calculation of the benefit to business users from time savings; the very recent announcement of updated Values of Time may start another chapter in this debate. There is a sepratate debate about Government’s statement that most benefits will accrue outside London (44, 45, 46). There is another debate about whether or not rail routes to the NorthWest suffer from capacity pressure (47). A dispute exists also on the question of what periods of line closures would be needed if HS2 was replaced by upgrading existing lines. I personally don’t have an opinion about who is right. But at least some of these debates may indicate that the presentation of the impacts of HS2, especially in the earlier versions of the business case, was driven by the desire to justify the investment. In such cases, even if corrections are made in revised versions of the appraisal, the damage caused to the perceived transparency of the appraisal is already made. This worries me.
The full report can be found here