Leading Labour peer and rail expert slams HS2

Lord Berkeley has sent me a copy of his dissenting report on the HS2 Review and it is damning. It isn’t just his criticisms of the way he was written out of the process, despite being deputy chair of the Review, but his view that the positive conclusions in the Review are not supported by the evidence.

I know it is difficult for many Greens and Labour supporters to criticise investment in any public transport project, especially one that claims to promote better links with the north of England, but Lord Berkeley is exactly the sort of person you would expect to enthusiastically back HS2. He has been the Labour Opposition transport spokesperson in the Lords. He advises on European matters to the Rail Freight Group, having chaired the group for over 15 years. He was Public Affairs Manager of Eurotunnel from 1981 until the end of construction of the Channel Tunnel in 1994 and before that was involved in the planning and construction of various major projects around the world. He is a rail enthusiast, who has helped deliver rail projects like HS2.

Lord Berkeley believes that the Review suffered from “a bias towards accepting HS2’s evidence in preference to those of others.” He criticises the failure of the Review to go public with evidence from Treasury officials and states that his own best estimate is that the benefit vs cost ratio is possibly as low 0.6 for every pound invested. It therefore ranks as poor value for money when using the Treasury Green Book. 

His dissenting Review concludes that the priority should be spending on regional rail services in the north and midlands. “HS2 is the wrong and expensive solution to ‘making it faster and easier to travel for work and leisure by providing better North South intercity services. Many more people travel to work and leisure on local or regional services, and those in the Northern Power House and Midlands Connect areas are some of the worst in the country.

There is strong evidence that the greatest need and demand for improved rail services is within the regions… “Its stated aim of providing better North South links is just as likely to attract more jobs from the regions to London than the other way round.”

Parliamentary support for this project was generated four years ago when the costing for HS2 Phase 1 was £15.1bn (2016). It is time for Parliament to rethink that support as the financial cost now stands at £54.5bn (2019 prices), an increase of 361%. That is a lot of money to spend on an environmentally devastating project that brings limited economic returns.