New HS2 report favours spin over analysis, says MP

Bucks Free Press: Cheryl Gillan, MP for Chesham and Amersham, at an anti-HS2 rally Cheryl Gillan, MP for Chesham and Amersham, at an anti-HS2 rally

A SELECT committee report saying the controversial HS2 project is essential for the UK and that its benefits “significantly outweigh” its risks has been accused of favouring spin over analysis by Chesham and Amersham MP Cheryl Gillan.

The Transport Select Committee’s report, published today, says the potential gains from the project “significantly outweigh” any risks.

It argues that the line, set to cleave through part of the Chiltern Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, will provide for long-term capacity and greater connectivity for rail-users.

It added that the two phases of the project – one being the line between London and Birmingham, the second being the line between Birmingham and Manchester – should be built at the same time.

Currently phase one is scheduled for completion in 2026, and phase two by 2033.

Mrs Gillan said today: “It is no wonder that the Transport Select Committee has endorsed the scheme.

“The Committee claims that no alternative proposals will meet capacity and connectivity demands but it is questionable how they can stand by these claims when, apparently, they took no oral evidence from opponents or promoters of alternative schemes. This report is little more than an extension of the propaganda already emanating from the Department for Transport and HS2 Ltd.”

The Committee also states in the report that the Government should promote the cost of the project as £28 billion, instead of the commonly referred to figure of £50 billion, to combat claims that the scheme has been given a ‘blank cheque’ for spending.

It said that the cost increases have largely been due to the decision to undertake more tunnelling and other work to lessen the impact of the line on those living nearby.

Mrs Gillan said it was “completely irresponsible” of the Committee to make this recommendation. She said: “HS2, like all major projects, has a contingency fund built into the costings. This is because, as we all know, public infrastructure schemes are prone to overspend and this fund acts to adjust for this likelihood.”

“To suppress this extra £14.5 billion, as well as the extra £8 billion for the trains themselves, camouflages the real figures surrounding this scheme from the public. The Transport Select Committee should be holding the Department for Transport and HS2 Ltd to account, not helping them to pull the wool over the peoples’ eyes.”

The cost of the project is currently estimated by the Government as £42.6bn. Of this, £14.56bn has been set aside as contingency funding. However, another £7.5bn is estimated to be spent on the high-speed trains themselves.

The Chairman of the Transport Select Committee, Louise Ellman MP, will be making a statement to the House of Commons next week on the findings of the report. Mrs Gillan confirmed intends to raise questions over what she called the Chairman’s “failures to address all the issues over HS2”.

The Stop HS2 group today branded the select committee report as a “cheerleading whitewash”.

The committee’s report did express concern, however, over how Heathrow would be incorporated into phase one and whether including a stop at the airport may affect the budget.

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