£43billion HS2 'will not help regions', warns Public Accounts Committee report

 

The controversial High Speed Two (HS2) rail project has received one of its most damning assessments yet – just days after the Prime Minister called for a fightback in favour of the project – with the Department of Transport accused of basing  projections on “fragile numbers, out of date data and assumptions that do not reflect real life”.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC), chaired by Margaret Hodge, criticised the cost of the project, now standing at £42.6bn, and insisted there was no evidence suggesting it would aid regional economies. Instead, it warned, its effects could be the reverse: “sucking” activity into London.

The scathing conclusions follow David Cameron’s decision to use the G20 summit to effectively relaunch the case for HS2 in wake of growing scepticism, urging doubters to  “think big” about its economic and transport benefits.

But the committee warned of  “unrealistic” plans to secure the  necessary legislation for HS2 by 2015 and said management risked a repeat of costly errors such as last year’s flawed procurement of the West Coast mainline franchise award.

It said evidence used to show the benefits to commuters was so out of date that it failed to recognise business travellers were able to work on trains using laptops and other mobile devices. And it demanded an urgent explanation of how quickly the Department would plug significant gaps in project expertise. “In my committee’s experience, not allowing enough time for preparation undermines project from the start,” Ms Hodge warned.

The committee also said that the scale of the contingency built into the budget –at £14.4bn, the equivalent of a third of the total – appeared to be “compensating for weak cost information”.

The former Chancellor Alistair Darling, recently withdrew his support for a venture that he was instrumental in starting, calling it a potential  “nightmare”. The Institute of Directors has branded it a “grand folly”. But the PAC criticism is the latest and perhaps most withering criticism of the  proposed 351-mile service from London to Birmingham and beyond.

Advocates say it will reduce journey times and expand passenger capacity at a time when more people are using the railways than at any time since the 1920s. The chairman of HS2, Douglas Oakervee, told The Independent on Sunday that it would be “catastrophic” if the project was scrapped.

The Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, who is expected to argue the economic case for HS2 in a major speech on Wednesday, rejected the findings, insisting the case was “absolutely clear” that without HS2, key rail routes would be “overwhelmed” by  rising passenger numbers. “The project will free up vital space on our railways, generate hundreds of thousands of jobs and deliver better connections,” he said. “HS2 is a vital part of our plan to give Britain the transport infrastructure it needs to compete.”

The first phase of the scheme between London and Birmingham is due to open in 2026 with an extension to Leeds and Manchester scheduled to operate from 2033. Calling for more detailed evidence to back the case, the MPs concluded: “The Department has yet to demonstrate that this is the best way to spend £50bn on rail investment in these constrained times.”

A Whitehall-led review is being carried out for an update next month. It will set out broader benefits for the national economy than those covered by this formal cost-benefit analysis.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
News
John Rees-Evans is standing for Ukip in Cardiff South and Penarth
news
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
Sport
David Silva, Andy Carroll, Arsene Wenger and Radamel Falcao
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photo Booth Host

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company offers London's best photo booth ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers



£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers ...

Recruitment Genius: Project Director / Operations Director

£50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an incredible opportunity for a ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Administrator is requir...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'