Protesters camped along the route of the proposed HS2 high speed rail link at Harefield claim they were evicted unlawfully yesterday when security guards turned up without a court order ahead of imminent tree felling. It looks like HS2 Ltd are getting jittery, and with good reason. The chorus of voices to cancel HS2 are becoming louder and more influential. Critics include new Conservative MPs in the north of England who have joined forces to form an “HS2 Review Group“, and Lord Berkeley who was the deputy chair of the Oakervee Review which was set up by the Government last year to independently review the scheme.
The Oakervee Review committee disbanded in Oct 2019, before the report had been completed. Whilst committee members were shown a copy of the final draft they were not allowed to make or suggest any changes. In response Lord Berkeley published his own “Dissenting Report” this week which strongly disputes the business case for the scheme and claims the benefits have been vastly inflated. He was particularly concerned about the way that submissions to the committee from HS2 Ltd were taken at face value and subject to little real scrutiny.
According to Lord Berkeley the business case inflates the speeds of the trains to higher than any European or Japanese high speed train, and creates fantasy benefits by suggesting 18 trains an hour could be run (when 12-14 an hour is the norm for high speed rail elsewhere).
Lord Berkeley says that the benefit-cost ratio is more likely to be under 1 and as low as 0.6, which according to Treasury rules should see the scheme shelved. We agree with Lord Berkeley, and many others, that the £100 billion cost of HS2 would be better invested in less damaging local rail schemes. This would improve capacity for local commuters, make better use of existing infrastructure, and better connect northern towns and cities. It will also mean that 108 ancient woodlands would not be destroyed or damaged at a time when we’ve just had every political party emphasising the importance of trees in tackling climate change.