ARUP, the only firm which David Cameron mentioned in his infrastructure speech on 19th March, had a series of exclusive meetings with senior Tory politicians, including the Prime Minister, before being awarded a series of contracts worth £22m, after the decision to proceed with HS2 on January 10th. ARUP have continued to be awarded the lions’ share of HS2 contracts, since being originally appointed by Labour’s Lord Adonis to develop the plans. That initial contract may have broken EU procurement rules after being settled via an exchange of letters, opposed to a proper tendering process, and the firm is a main sponsor of many of the Chambers of Commerce which have been lobbying for HS2 to be built.
On 16th February, just five weeks after the announcement to proceed with HS2, ARUP were awarded a £7m contract for environmental services. Since then they have been given a £10m contract to design a new station at Euston and a £5m contract to perform the Environmental Impact Analysis in the West Midlands.
In his speech on 19th March, David Cameron singled out ARUP for working ‘miracles in steel and glass’: examples include the Scottish Parliament building which cost £414m after an initial estimate of £10m. The revelations have raised more questions about how the government conducts business, following the recent lobbying scandal, as besides meeting David Cameron, in the last two years representatives from the company have met with Business Minister Mark Prisk, Business Secretary Vince Cable, Trade and Investment Minister Stephen Green, Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan and Philip Hammond -a construction magnate himself- whilst he was Transport Secretary. At a meeting in Buckingham in September 2010, Hammond said that Arup could not be considered to be acting with impartiality after he had been told that senior officers of the company, along with Atkins, had told objectors that the proposals chosen by the DfT were not the best options for the Country. ARUP company chairman Philip Dilley is named on the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Group.
The Stop HS2 campaign has long maintained, in line with the conclusions of the Eddington Transport Study, published in 2006 for the DfT, that HS2 was only progressing, not because it is in the best interests of the country, but because there is a strong lobby from vested interest groups who will make money out of it, either from winning contracts or via the exceptionally localised benefits it might bring a relatively few areas.
In 2006, Sir Rod Eddington was scathing of the way plans for high-speed rail were progressing. His report stated;
“It is critical that the government enforces a strong, strategic approach to option generation, so that it can avoid momentum building up behind particular solutions and the UK can avoid costly mistakes which will not be the most effective way of delivering on its strategic priorities.”
“The risk is that transport policy can become the pursuit of icons. Almost invariably such projects – ‘grands projets’ – develop real momentum, driven by strong lobbying. The momentum can make such projects difficult – and unpopular – to stop, even when the benefit/cost equation does not stack up, or the environmental and landscape impacts are unacceptable.”
“The approach taken to the development of some very high-speed rail line options has been the opposite of the approach advocated in this study. That is, the challenge to be tackled has not been fully understood before a solution has been generated. Alternative options do not, therefore, appear to have been fully explored so it is not clear what the highest return solution to a problem would be; nor indeed is the challenge clear.”
Stop HS2 Campaign Coordinator Joe Rukin said;
“HS2 Ltd will say that ARUP have continued to be appointed via a ‘comprehensive and transparent selection process’, but the fact is that we always knew they would get the big contracts, as that’s all the DfT and HS2 Ltd know how to do properly, despite the massive failures of ARUP so far. They have now had three attempts at designing their maps, which are massively deceptive in the way they do not show the land take, preserve next to no rights of way and are still strewn with errors. This exactly what happened with HS1, which the National Audit Office reported this week has completely failed to live up to it’s hype. We cannot afford to make this mistake again, but in a much bigger way. Given the Governments approach to lobbying, the warning from Sir Rod Eddington that HS2 was only progressing because those with vested interests in building the scheme had the ear of Government, and the fact ARUP were the only firm David Cameron felt the need to mention in his speech, serious questions now have to be asked.”
The fuel fiasco doesn’t exactly demonstrate competence in forward planning by the government or its advisors.