Government announces independent review into HS2 programme

Date published: 23 August 2019

An independent review will take place into the High Speed 2 rail project, the government announced on Wednesday (21 August).

High Speed 2 (HS2) is the proposed new high-speed railway directly connecting Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham and London, funded by taxpayers across the UK. HS2 is being designed to operate initially at 360 kilometres per hour, faster than any other train in the world.

The review will look at whether and how HS2 should proceed, using all existing evidence on the project to consider:

  • its benefits and impacts
  • affordability and efficiency
  • deliverability and scope
  • its phasing, including its relationship with Northern Powerhouse Rail

A final report will be sent to the Secretary of State, with oversight from the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer, by the autumn.

The report, led by Douglas Oakervee, a retired engineer who briefly chaired HS2 Ltd, will inform the government’s decisions on next steps for the project. Limited, largely preparatory works, on the project will continue in parallel with the report’s work.

Working with Lord Berkeley, a railway expert and critic of the project, as his deputy, Mr Oakervee will be supported by a panel of experts, bringing together a range of perspectives from business, academia and the transport sector to ensure an independent, thorough and objective assessment of the project.

Panellists will each be consulted on the report’s conclusions.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “The Prime Minister has been clear that transport infrastructure has the potential to drive economic growth, redistribute opportunity and support towns and cities across the UK, but that investments must be subject to continuous assessment of their costs and benefits.

“That’s why we are undertaking this independent and rigorous review of HS2.

“Douglas Oakervee and his expert panel will consider all the evidence available, and provide the department with clear advice on the future of the project.”


the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Area Lead for Greater Manchester, Phil Thompson
The Federation of Small Businesses' (FSB) Area Lead for Greater Manchester, Phil Thompson,


Responding to the announcement, the Federation of Small Businesses' (FSB) Area Lead for Greater Manchester, Phil Thompson, said: “For the good of small firms here in Greater Manchester, the wider North, and the UK economy as a whole, it’s vital the HS2 project remains on track. This stop-start approach to major transport investment that has held our economy back for decades – particularly in the North – has to end.

“It’s right that HS2 represents value for money, and that starts with responsible procurement – bringing smaller firms into the supply chain wherever possible and paying them on time.

“HS2 should be seized by this government as an opportunity to back the small businesses it so often claims to support, opening doors for them and setting the tone for future infrastructure projects. It would do well to remember small firms bring a dynamism to supply chains that big corporates struggle to match.   

“Wider job creation, inward investment and other transport projects across the north of England hinge on HS2’s completion, without which there’s a huge question mark over how so-called HS3 Manchester to Leeds would fit in. That would be of huge damage to the Northern Powerhouse concept, being actually the underpinnings of the project to many.

“The North needs to send a unified and clear message that HS2 in anything less than the current format would be nothing short of a disaster for our entire region, for the people and businesses based here, and would serve as a clear signal that the North-South divide is alive and kicking when it comes to transport investment.”

Penny Gaines, chair of the Stop HS2 campaign, said: “While we welcome an independent review of HS2, having a former chair of HS2 Ltd does not make it sound particularly independent. 

“Right from the start, government reviews of HS2 have been stuffed full of supporters of high speed rail, and have tended to come out with gushing praise for HS2.  Meanwhile independent reviews have criticised HS2 for the massive costs, disruption and outdated views of travel and the environmental damage HS2 will cause.

“We are particularly concerned that the terms of reference do not include the environmental costs of HS2.  It will blast through numerous sensitive wildlife sites, including over 100 ancient woodlands.  These are a real cost of the project and these environmental costs be included in the review.

“We are also really concerned that preparatory work is to continue. People’s lives and livelihoods are being overturned as well as the natural environment being wrecked as we speak by HS2 preparatory work.

“In addition, we are also concerned that HS2 Ltd are continuing to take people’s homes and businesses, with possession orders in place at the moment, without HS2 Ltd paying people in a timely manner. Payments to people affected by HS2 through no fault of their own should be made immediately.”

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