Review launched into HS2

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has launched a review of high-speed rail link HS2 – with a decision on the future of the major infrastructure project set to be made by the end of the year.

The review will consider whether and how the project to connect London, the Midlands and northern England should proceed, looking at costs and benefits.

Reacting to the announcement, Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, described HS2 as a “vital project.”

And he said that Preston was one of the cities that would benefit from better rail connections under an integrated plan.

The terms of reference published today reveals that the independently-led government review will look at HS2’s benefits and impacts as well as its affordability, efficiency, deliverability and scope.

The review will also look at the phasing of the programme, including its relationship with Northern Powerhouse Rail.

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

Boris Johnson has expressed doubts about the project, having said during his Tory leadership campaign that he wanted a full investigation into its costs and scope before deciding on its future. He spoke of his “anxieties about the business case”.

Investments must be subject to continuous assessment of their costs and benefits.

In a statement the Department for Transport said: “The report 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.”

Mr 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.”

The review panel will be led by former HS2 Ltd chairman and civil engineer Douglas Oakervee.

Henri Murison said: “HS2 is a vital project to help rebalance the economy and make us more productive, alongside linked interventions including most notably Northern Powerhouse Rail.

“The Northern Powerhouse Partnership will be engaging positively with the review to make the case for why HS2 is so necessary, for cities like Leeds and Manchester, but also for those like Newcastle, Preston and Glasgow, which all benefit from significantly better connections under an integrated plan for a new railway to take city to city traffic off our largely Victorian network which we need for commuters and freight.”

The first phase of the development between London and Birmingham is currently scheduled to open at the end of 2026, with the second phase to Leeds and Manchester set for completion by 2032-33.

Mr Shapps told the BBC that ministers were asking the reviewers to “just give us the facts.”

He added: “Go and find out all the information that's out there… genuinely what it would cost to complete this project, and then we’ll be in a much better position to make that decision - go or no-go by the end of the year.”

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