The former chair of the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has claimed that “no big picture analysis” of spending on High Speed 2 (HS2) has ever been conducted.
Speaking publicly for the first time since leaving the rail regulator at the end of 2018, Stephen Glaister told Channel 4’s Dispatches programme that there had been no official assessment to determine if money spent on HS2 could have been handled better or spent elsewhere.
His comments were made after Dispatches commissioned independent consultants Oxera to research the economic case for HS2.
While the government says that for every pound spent, the full HS2 scheme will generate £2.30 in economic growth, Dispatches’ investigation found that the Northern Powerhouse Rail scheme would generate 40p more for every pound spent.
The analysis also shows that if the HS2 scheme was cut back and terminated in Birmingham, each pound spent would only generate £1.15 to the UK economy.
“There was no big picture analysis. We just don’t know whether there would have been a better way of spending the money,” Glaister said. “You might ask the question: ’what else could you do?’ You could give larger sums of money to Manchester to Birmingham, to Newcastle and let them do as they saw best for their local communities.”
Glaister, who is still a government advisor, added that stopping HS2 in Birmingham would be the worst possible scenario for everyone. “You just really have a white elephant if you only go to Birmingham,” he said.
HS2 Ltd chief executive Mark Thurston dismissed reallocating funds to Northern Powerhouse Rail, claiming that the country needs both routes.
He said: “We have to do both. When High Speed 2 and the work of Northern Powerhouse Rail brings together an integrated rail network to connect those Northern cities, it will transform the northern economy, it will transform as a consequence the UK economy, it will re balance that prosperity and wealth gap that we know we have between North and South.
“And that’s the prize. That’s what we got to hold our nerve on until the government advises us otherwise.”
In October last year, Transport for the North chief executive Barry White said Northern Powerhouse Rail is “reliant” on HS2 going up to Leeds, when addressing the industry at the annual Rail Industry Associaiton conference.
He said: “There is clearly an increasing number of voices questioning HS2. I thought HS2 had done a good job in getting public support. But I think we all need to make the case for how important HS2 is to the North and to our business partners.
“It is very important to our plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail.”
Last week HS2 Ltd revealed its construction partners for Euston and Old Oak Common. New Civil Engineer subsequently revealed that a number of the losing bidders are considering challenging the verdict.
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