Government is set to press ahead with the first vote on their HS2 Blank Cheque Bill, which would release an unspecified amount of money to be spent on consultants designing HS2 on 26th June, despite more independent criticism and new statistics which further question the need for the project.
Just last week, the latest official rail usage figures were released by the Office of Rail Regulation. Despite the business case for HS2 being dependent on a 2.4% annual increase in long-distance passengers (and a 30-40% increase when HS2 is built, just because journey times are quicker), the actual figures for January-March 2013 show a 2.6% decrease.
Following this, the New Ecomomics Foundation have today (18th June 2013) published a report, in which they are concerned that “Demand for HS2 has likely been overestimated by oversimplified government modelling.” Internationally, high speed rail projects across the world are facing severe financial problems because the grossly inflated passenger forecasts used to justify their construction have never materialised. In the UK, the HS1 project will cost the taxpayer £10bn more than expected for exactly this reason, according to the National Audit Office.
The NEF report echoes many other points which have consistently been made by the Stop Hs2 campaign; that HS2 is poor value for money; it is going to be carbon intensive and environmentally damaging; it will not heal the north-south divide; and that there are better, cheaper alternatives which deliver more benefits to more people more quickly.
This follows on from recent similar criticism from the National Audit Office and a so far unheeded ruling from the Information Commission that releasing the details of why HS2 has received three amber-red assessments from the Major Projects Authority is in the public interests. The response from Government has been to make sure the Public Accounts Committee will not debate the NAO report until after the first vote on the Blank Cheque Bill, and to also not release the MPA reports until the vote has happened. It is also expected that the Tax Payers Alliance will shortly produce their own report on HS2, which is likely to be highly critical.
The Stop HS2 campaign has launched a new web-based tool to enable those opposed to the HS2 project to easily email their MP, which can be found at www.highspeedrail.org.uk.
Penny Gaines, Chair of Stop HS2 said;
“Reports from the NAO and NEF show that the economic costs of HS2 outweigh any economic benefits. MPs are being asked vote for a blank cheque when there are so many other options which will bring more benefits to everyone. As the NEF say today, a much more effective way of spending money now is on regional railways in the north and broadband which will benefit everyone.”
“With the latest rail usage figures showing passenger numbers are falling, writing a blank cheque when the project is not needed and there are better alternatives is an irresponsible waste of taxpayers money.”
Stop HS2 Campaign Coordinator Joe Rukin said;
“The clamour of concerns over the HS2 project keep getting louder and louder, but the only response we see from the majority of MPs is to stick their fingers in their ears and refuse to listen. When there are so many independent analysts saying all the same things about HS2, that the case for it is flimsy at best for so many reasons, it is unbelievable that Government and MPs cannot take their job to be responsible with taxpayers money seriously.”
”Independent reports after independent reports keep coming in, which raise severe question marks over HS2 keep being published, and the puerile way in which Government dismiss them is simply becoming tiresome. Every one of the stock arguments for HS2 has been knocked down, and all they have left is to stamp their feet and say ‘I want my train set.’”
“With cross-party support for HS2, we hope as many people as possible around the country will take the time to contact their MPs. We know that when the Blank Cheque Bill comes to its first vote it will simply be a question of how big the rebellion is, but after that, when the amendments start coming in, it could get interesting.”