Unconvincing and expensive – Lords reject economic case for HS2

Peers urge research into increasing capacity on existing rail network

A House of Lords committee has accused the government of having no convincing economic case for the controversial £50bn HS2 rail project, and said further investigations were needed to establish whether congestion could be eased through a cheaper scheme.

Lord Hollick, the chair of the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee said: “The government are basing the justification for HS2 on two factors — increased rail capacity and rebalancing the UK economy. We have not seen the evidence that it is the best way to deliver either.”

He said that overcrowding on the West Coast Main Line was a particular problem for commuters and at peak weekend hours.

“The government has not carried out a proper assessment of whether alternative ways of increasing capacity are more cost-effective than HS2,” he said.

Hollick also queried the government’s argument that HS2 would help to rebalance the economy.

“In terms of rebalancing, London is likely to be the main beneficiary from HS2. Investment in improving rail links in the North of England might deliver much greater economic benefit at a fraction of the cost,” he said.

The Lords said it was not too late to revise the plans.

“There should be no embarrassment in being prepared to revise the project: the objectives and costs are too important,” the peers said.

The accusations, which form part of a report from the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, follow reports early last month highlighting the huge expenses the project has already racked up.

HS2 chief executive Simon Kirby is the UK’s highest-paid civil servant, with an annual salary of £750,000. When construction begins, currently forecasted for 2017, the 2011 estimates for the cost stood at £47m per kilometre of track, making the project the most expensive railway line in history.

Despite the growing criticism, the Department for Transport has stuck its ground saying the case for the project remained “crystal clear”.

A statement released by the department said: “HS2 will deliver over £2 of benefits for every £1 invested and the economic benefit of the project was recognised by MPs of all parties who voted 452 to 41 in favour of HS2 at the second reading of the hybrid bill.”

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Finally a committee with clout is talking sense on this ridiculous project, and its actually getting coverage in the press unlike when every other committee slam-dunked it recently. I expect the government to stick rigidly to their unproven spin... in fact they'll probably invent a new reason that HS2 is a good idea... "HS2 will eradicate malaria and promote world peace" or something like that - anything to keep the QUANGO rolling and our money rolling into their greedy mates' pockets. Hopefully they'll see sense and revise the project so its actually worth the money, and has a cost/benefit ratio of more than the current 'diddly squat if we're lucky' 2/1. no other project would be approved at that ratio and their methodology has been exposed as 'fundamentally flawed' by all those scrutinising it so far so the ROI is more likely to be nowt. I won't hold my breath though - I'll need that for the sharp intake when we all realise how much its cost us all in the end.

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  • Agree. This is madness; and we know it will end up costing far more than estimated, and take longer. This huge amount of money could be better spent upgrading and adding to existing lines.

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