HS2 and this lack of accountability as high speed rail bill skyrocketed to £100bn – Tom Richmond

Boris Johnson gave his backing to HS2 this week - but where's the accountability?
Boris Johnson gave his backing to HS2 this week - but where's the accountability?
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IT is 10 years since I ventured that HS2 would require a specific Government minister if there was ever to be any chance of keeping Britain’s high-speed rail revolution on track.

Fast forward a decade and Boris Johnson says he will make just such an appointment after the Cabinet decided – on balance – that the projected cost of £100bn was a price worth paying.

How can the management of schemes like HS2 stay on track?

How can the management of schemes like HS2 stay on track?

HS2 would have been built by the Victorians by now – Bill Carmichael

But what I do not understand is why successive governments waited so long before intervening over skyrocketing costs and delays to Europe’s largest infrastructure project before intervening.

HS2 and why Boris Johnson must work with critics of high-speed rail – The Yorkshire Post says

This points to one fundamental failing – a woeful lack of accountability – that the Prime Minister must now address as he tries to pick up the pieces from a reshuffle that saw Sajid Javid resign before delivering a Budget and replaced by Richmond MP Rishi Sunak.

Theresa Villiers during a visit to flood-hit Hebden Bridge a day before she was sacked as Environment Secretary.

Theresa Villiers during a visit to flood-hit Hebden Bridge a day before she was sacked as Environment Secretary.

HS2’s ‘British Bullet’ must deliver a local, regional and national rail revolution – Tom Richmond

And, if Mr Johnson is to preside over an infrastructure revolution from trains to flood defences, key lessons from the immediate past need to be learned if the same mistakes are to be avoided.

It means an investigation into the past mismanagement of HS2 Ltd to understand its profligacy, whether it has the right engineering expertise at its disposal and to ensure that the organisation is working with local communities rather than riding roughshod over them.

It means a select committee inquiry into the past performance of the Northern and TransPennine Express rail franchises – the former is being renationalised next month – and to ascertain how Theresa May’s government under you know who (Chris Grayling) was so slow respond to the public’s misgivings about late trains.

It also means a root-and-branch review of flood-defence policy as homeowners and businesses across the Calder Valley count the cost of the latest damage and devastation to hit their area and demand to know why promised improvements in Mytholmroyd and elsewhere were not completed on schedule.

The Environment Agency is unaccountable and the special summit on flood management, promised by Boris Johnson and Theresa Villiers, the then Environment Secretary, in the wake of the South Yorkshire floods, is still to be held.

They took place last November. There’s still no date in the diary. There’s still no assessment of the training needs of firefighters. And there’s still no assurance that Yorkshire communities are getting the flood prevention being afforded to other parts of the country.

As I’ve said before, there needs to be a dedicated Minister for the Coast and Flooding to co-ordinate policy. And, having ignored this overture, I just hope the Government’s intransigence does not leave Britain paying a heavy HS2-like price for Downing Street’s inertia and inaction because so many officials have been allowed to avoid accountability.

FAIR play to Labour leadership contender Lisa Nandy for refusing to give up her weekends – and precious family time – to travel to London to ingratiate herself with the BBC’s Andrew Marr and others.

“I’ve refused to do it for the past three years,” says Nandy, who struggles to justify travelling from Wigan to London for a 10-minute appearance before heading back to the North West.

She has a point. Unlike Sky News, which will broadcast its Labour leadership hustings from Dewsbury under the excellent Sophy Ridge whose Sunday morning political programmes do attempt to break free from the capital, Andrew Marr is typical of those BBC presenters who think the country begins and ends in London. It does not.

BORIS Johnson’s dominance of the Commons is illustrated by the fact Brexit did not even feature at Prime Minister’s Questions this week – the dreaded B-word was not even uttered.

There was also only one passing reference to HS2, that other totemic issue, when the verbose Martin Vickers asked a long-winded question about high-speed rail links to Cleethorpes.

It wouldn’t have been like this in Theresa May’s day.

Unless, of course, it was the prospect of a Cabinet reshuffle 24 hours later – and hope of promotion – that prompted many to take a vow of silence. For now.

A SOCIAL-CARE update, courtesy of a letter sent by Skipton & Ripon MP Julian Smith – the now former Northern Ireland Secretary – to a constituent and regular reader of The Yorkshire Post.

“The Government is currently producing a Social Care Green Paper which will consider a range of proposals,” he writes, before citing the extra flexibility given to councils over funding.

But he adds: “Money alone will not fix the problem and reform is needed to encourage high standards across the country.” Just one question after Matt Hancock miraculously kept his job as Health and Social Care Secretary, despite making no progress on this issue over the past two years. When?

FINALLY, I never met Paddy Broderick who died last weekend – but I will always be in his debt. He’s the jump jockey who rode Yorkshire’s dual Champion Hurdle winner Night Nurse, the Peter Easterby-trained horse that began my love affair with horse racing.

Watching the racing on TV, my late great aunt asked which horse would win. I always pointed at Night Nurse because he was leading from the front under the buccaneering Broderick.

He very rarely let me down. And, from that moment onwards, horse racing became a lifelong passion that has brought great highs – and lifelong friends – as well as the occasional low. But my enduring regret is that I never had the chance to meet him just to say thank you.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk