The Government has yet to make a convincing case for spending £50bn building the HS2 rail link between London and the North, a report from the House of Lords Economic Affairs Select Committee said on Wednesday.
Peers believed the Government’s main arguments for HS2 – increasing capacity on the railway and rebalancing the economy – lacked sufficient proof to justify one of the most expensive infrastructure projects to be undertaken in the UK. They also concluded that there are more-cost effective alternatives than HS2.
Lord Hollick, chairman of the Lords' committee, said: “The Committee are supportive of investment in rail infrastructure, but are not convinced that HS2 as currently proposed is the best way to deliver that investment.”
Overcrowding on the West Coast Main Line was largely a problem on commuter trains and on long-distance services on Friday nights and some weekends. Otherwise, the same trains departing to and from Euston, for example, were on average, just 43 per cent full and even during peak times only between 50 and 60 per cent full.
Lord Hollick said other ways of improving the trans-Pennine links should be considered or building the northern legs of HS2 first.
“The Government have not carried out a proper assessment of whether alternative ways of increasing capacity are more cost effective than HS2.
“In terms of rebalancing, London is likely to be the main beneficiary from HS2. Investment in improving rail links in the North of England might deliver much greater economic benefit at a fraction of the cost of HS2.”
Peers also called on the Department for Transport (DfT) to provide detailed answers to the points raised by the committee, since data such as the cost-benefit analysis for HS2 relies on out-of-date evidence – some going back to 1994.
Lord Hollick said: “Parliament should not approve enabling legislation that will allow HS2 work to begin until we have satisfactory answers to these key questions.”
New evidence is expected before Parliament passes the HS2 bill, they said, and set out arguments against the investment in a YouTube video.
The Committee also suggested that, if HS2 is to go ahead, the cost could be reduced by building it to run at 200mph, emulating the model in Europe, instead of 250mph. The public subsidy to HS2 – an estimated net £31.5bn – also conflicts with the Government's declared objective of making rail less dependent on subsidies.
The first phase of HS2 will be between London and Birmingham opening in 2026, followed by a section to Manchester and Yorkshire. It promises to slash journey times considerably.