£96 billion HS2 project ‘should be cancelled’ amid reports it may not run to central London
A peer behind an HS2 review commissioned by ex-prime minister Boris Johnson has said the entire project should be scrapped amid reports the high-speed rail line may not reach its central London terminus at Euston because of rising costs.
Lord Berkeley called for the tens of billions of pounds being invested in the project to be diverted to improve mainline railway services across Britain.
Soaring inflation means the redeveloped Euston station may not open until 2038 and could be axed completely with trains instead stopping at a new hub at Old Oak Common in west London’s suburbs, according to The Sun.
The newspaper also reported that a two to five-year delay to the entire project is being considered.
A Department for Transport (DfT) report published less than three years ago described Euston as “an important part of realising the benefits” of HS2.
On Friday the department said the project is facing significant inflationary pressures.
Asked about HS2 following a speech in central London, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said: “HS2 was a specific priority for me in the autumn statement.”
He added: “I am incredibly proud, that under a Conservative government, for the first time we have shovels in the ground for the London to Birmingham part of HS2, and we are absolutely committed to showing that we can deliver big, important infrastructure projects.”
Phase One of HS2 involves the railway being built between London and Birmingham, with the line extended from the West Midlands to Crewe in Phase 2a.
Phase 2b will connect Crewe to Manchester and the West Midlands to the East Midlands.
The planned extension to Leeds was shelved in November 2021.
A DfT spokesman said: “The Government remains committed to delivering HS2 to Manchester, as confirmed in the autumn statement.
“As well as supporting tens of thousands of jobs, the project will connect regions across the UK, improve capacity on our railways and provide a greener option of travel.”
Lord Berkeley was deputy chairman of the Oakervee Review into HS2, commissioned by Mr Johnson in August 2019.
The then-prime minister gave the railway the green light to proceed in February 2020, despite the review warning that the total cost could reach £106 billion (at 2019 prices).
Lord Berkeley, a long-term sceptic of the project, told the PA news agency that Old Oak Common could only have capacity for around half the trains of Euston.
He said: “There’s not enough space for it (to be the London terminal) so they couldn’t do it except maybe (for) a shuttle service from Birmingham.
“What’s the point of building HS2 just to get to Birmingham?
“I think the whole thing should be cancelled.”
Improving railway lines
He claimed investment in the project would be “much better spent on improving the railway lines in the north, east and west, than going to London a bit quicker”.
Complexities around the Euston site meant high-speed services were already due to temporarily start and end at Old Oak Common, with passengers using the Elizabeth line to travel to and from central London.
That would add at least half an hour onto journeys to and from Euston.
A “full business case” for HS2 published by the DfT in April 2020 stated that the target timeframe for services launching between Old Oak Common and Birmingham was 2029-2033, whereas for trains between Euston and north-west England the range was 2031-2036.
The document also stated: “Euston is an important part of realising the benefits of HS2 and that work should continue on the section from Old Oak Common to Euston.
“Notwithstanding this, Euston is a very challenging, complex major programme and given its current status, Old Oak Common will be expected to operate as a temporary terminus for a period of time.”
Nigel Harris, managing editor of Rail magazine, described scrapping HS2’s Euston station as “catastrophic” as there would be “no incentive” for people to switch from West Coast Main Line services.
He said: “If you’re flying into Heathrow, you don’t want to go to Southend. That’s effectively what you’d be doing.”
Mr Harris added that Euston is “being built right now” with billions of pounds already spent on preparatory work and buying up property.
Construction of a 4.5-mile long tunnel between Old Oak Common and Euston was expected to begin in 2024 and take two years to complete.
HS2 has been dogged by criticism over its financial and environmental impact.
The UK Government has classed HS2 as an ‘England and Wales’ project meaning that Wales will not benefit in the same way as Scotland and Northern Ireland from additional rail funding as a result of the project.
A Cardiff University report found that if rail was devolved, Wales would have received an extra £514m investment in its rail infrastructure between 2011-12 and 2019-20 as a result of UK Government investment in HS2.
In October of last year, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove suggested capital investment for HS2 would be reviewed, but Chancellor Jeremy Hunt subsequently backed the project.
The target cost of Phase One was £40.3 billion at 2019 prices.
A budget of £55.7 billion for the whole of HS2 was set in 2015.
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