A REVIEW to decide the future of HS2 has been announced by transport secretary Grant Shapps.
An independent panel will report on the controversial high speed rail line – 54 kilometres of which will cut through Warwickshire – before the government decides on whether to go ahead or scrap the project.
A decision is expected by the end of the year. Work on the project will continue in the meantime.
The panel – headed by former HS2 chairman Douglas Oakervee – will look at HS2’s benefits and impacts, affordability and efficiency, deliverability and scope.
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.”
Stop HS2 campaigners welcomed the review but with reservations.
Chair Penny Gaines 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 Meanwhile independent reviews have criticised HS2 for the massive costs, disruption outdated views of travel and the environmental damage HS2 will cause.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 without paying for them, 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 there are should be made immediately.”
But the CBI was keen to see the project progress.
CBI director of infrastructure Tom Thackray said: “The business message on HS2 is clear-cut – back it, build it, benefit from it. The debate has gone round the houses too many times.
“While it’s always helpful to review major projects like HS2 to ensure that value for money is delivered, the business case is well known.
“The approval of HS2 Phase One led to record levels of foreign direct investment in the West Midlands, with more than 7,000 new jobs created in Birmingham as a direct result of HS2, and over 100,000 more. We have seen and are continuing to see similar benefits right across the proposed route.
“We firmly believe that committing to HS2 in full, once and for all, will spread the flow of investment across the midlands, the north of England and into Scotland.”
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) is also adamnent the project needs to go-ahead.
National Chairman, and West Midlands business owner Mike Cherry said: “For the good of UK small firms and the economy as a whole, it’s vital that the HS2 project remains on track. The stop-start approach to major transport investment that’s held our economy back for decades has to end.
“Of course HS2 needs to represent 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 that it so often claims to support, opening doors for them and setting the tone for future infrastructure projects. It would do well to remember that small firms bring a dynamism to supply chains that big corporates struggle to match.
“Wider job creation, inward investment and transport projects across the north of England and midlands hinge on HS2’s completion. This project is not simply a nice to have. Done right, it will lay the foundations for a truly balanced UK economy.”