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High Speed 2 comes under further scrutiny from the House of Lords
THE value for money of High Speed 2 has come under further intense scrutiny, this time in the House of Lords.
Following a heavily critical report by Parliament's Public Accounts Committee about the cost benefit of the £33bn scheme, it has come under fire in the second chamber.
Viscount Astor has previously publicly conceded his bias on the subject as a lover of the Chilterns countryside.
But he told a debate that assumptions made to justify the project are not credible.
He said: “I want to concentrate on cost. The question is whether the cost of £33 billion is worth the benefits that might accrue.
“The Government’s case rests on the assumption that rail travel is destined to grow at the rate projected by the Department for Transport, but one has to say that the department’s record in projecting future passenger numbers is not good.”
He cited a National Audit Office report which said the DfT used "hugely optimistic assumptions" about passenger numbers on High Speed 1.
He also believes technology and conferences via the internet, in particular, have been ignored when looking at how business will be done in future.
He said: “To assume that all time spent on trains is wasted is simply not credible.”
The Public Accounts Committee made a similar criticism.
Viscount Astor also pointed to the Government's cost benefit ratio figures which have slumped from 2.4 to 1.2 already.
This means HS2 would only make 20 pence on every pound spent and this dips even further when other research, recently published from reports 'hidden' in 2009, are factored in, campaigners say.
Viscount Astor said there were serious doubts about the supposed one million jobs the Government claims will be created and said it should concentrate on upgrading existing lines.
Lord Adonis, who announced HS2 as Labour's Transport Secretary in the last Government, responded: “I was not biased as the Secretary of State for Transport. The previous Government proposed HS2, and the present Government are carrying it through because it is the best decision for the infrastructure of the country.
“The cost-benefit analyses show a strong business case for HS2.”
He said demand will swell and extra capacity is vital.
He said: “By using 21st century technology, rather than trying to squeeze yet more out of what by the 2030s will be a 200 year-old railway, you get a transformation of capacity, speed, reliability and passenger service all in one.”
Baroness Seccombe, the President of the Kenilworth and Southam Conservative Association, said her constituents are blighted by the fear of high-speed trains ripping through their homes and farms.
She said: “If the fearsome amount of £33 billion has been identified, it should be used for the maximum benefit of us all, not for the few rich northern commuters who would save minutes from a journey at the expense of the long-suffering travelling public and the whole network.
“Altogether, this is a bad scheme and a huge waste of money which should be dropped.”
Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, who lives in Little Missenden, only a few hundred metres from the proposed line, said: “It may be said that, as a result of my living so close, my comments should be discounted. However, it is the very fact that the line runs so close to our village that made me take a close interest in the woeful economic case and the very sketchy consultations carried out to date.”
He labelled HS2 'unaffordable'.
Lord Bates, a weekly traveller on the east coast main line to Newcastle, said: “The journey of three hours and six minutes is the most pleasurable part of my week and probably the most productive.”