Further controversy surrounding the Department for Transport’s proposed HS2 high-speed rail link between London, the Midlands and the north of the country have been sparked by a recent report from the National Audit Commission.
The report warns that the economic case for the link was unclear, and claims to have identified a funding gap of some £3.3 billion above the current Phase One estimates of between £15.4 and £17.3 billion. It goes on to state, “It’s too early in the HS2 programme to conclude on the likelihood of its achieving value for money. Our concern at this point is the lack of clarity around the Department’s objectives.
“The strategic case for the network should be better developed at this stage of the programme. It is also unclear how HS2 will transform regional economies by delivering jobs and growth. The Department is trying against a challenging timetable to strengthen its evidence and analysis, which at present provide a weak foundation for securing and demonstrating success in the programme in future.”
However, Ministers hit back strongly with Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin rejecting the NAO’s core conclusions on the basis that they were based on a business case 18 months old. He commented that the report “depended too much on out-of-date analysis and does not give due weight to the good progress that has been made since last year. The case for HS2 is clear. Without it, the key rail routes connecting London, the Midlands and the North will be overwhelmed”.
It is hoped that HS2 will welcome its first passengers in around 2026, offering greatly reduced train times. For example, the DfT says that Phase One between London Euston and Birmingham will take just 49 minutes as opposed to the current hour and 24 minutes. HS2 Phase Two would see journey times between Birmingham and Manchester almost halved to 41 minutes, and times between London and Manchester reduced from two hours and 8 minutes to just one hour and 8 minutes.