Former HS2 minister says link is 'vital' and partly blames campaigners for driving up the cost of the project by making houses unsellable

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Former HS2 minister and Yorkshire MP Robert Goodwill has partly blamed campaigners against the project for pushing up the costs as a report was released attacking the scheme.

Lord Berkeley, who was Deputy Chairman of the Oakervee Review into HS2 until October, released his own report yesterday where he claims Parliament was "seriously misled" over the costs of the project, which he says would be poor value for money and bad for the environment.

'Stop HS2' posters displayed in the window of a home in Mexborough. Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

'Stop HS2' posters displayed in the window of a home in Mexborough. Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The network was initially expected to cost £50.1bn. Latest estimates by HS2 Ltd - the private company in charge of the project - put the price at £88bn. But Lord Berkeley says independent analysis arrives at a figure of at least £107.92bn, and in an interview during the election Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he expected costs to exceed £100bn.

But Mr Goodwill, who was tasked with overseeing HS2 in the Department of Transport from 2013 to 2015, said some of the cost increases were due to campaigners unnecessarily worrying potential housebuyers in areas largely unaffected by the scheme, making homes unsaleable and therefore due compensation, plus the cost of accommodating environmental concerns.

The Stop HS2 campaign said the accusation was "exactly what we expect from proponents of HS2".

Mr Goodwill said: “I think the Government has made clear that Lord Berkeley’s views are just his own but we must also bear in mind some of the increase in costs are reacting to the environmental concerns, such as the channeling under the Chilterns.”

Scarborough and Whitby MP, Conservative Robert Goodwill. Photo: JPI Media

Scarborough and Whitby MP, Conservative Robert Goodwill. Photo: JPI Media

Six miles of tunnelling in the Chilterns, which stretches from the River Thames in Oxfordshire to Hitchin in Hertfordshire, is planned for phase one of the HS2 route which runs from London to Birmingham.

The building of a tunnel was agreed to stop the track running through the area of outstanding natural beauty.

Mr Goodwill said: “I could shave £3bn off tomorrow if we didn’t tunnel under the Chilterns.”

But he said a second reason for costs rising was the DfT having to pay out compensation for homes deemed unsalable by HS2 - not because they would be affected by the route, but because potential housebuyers, at first glance, thought they would be adversely impacted due to the abundance of Stop HS2 campaign posters.

'Stop HS2' banner is displayed outside a home in Mexborough. Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

'Stop HS2' banner is displayed outside a home in Mexborough. Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

He said while he was HS2 minister he had been presented with an application for compensation for “a house nearly a mile away from the line of route, you would not see [HS2] or really hear it”.

He said: “So I asked ‘why is this house unsaleable because of HS2?’, I was told ‘here’s a picture of the house’ and there was a Stop HS2 poster. Some of the bill has been attributable to the campaign and the posters and the concerns of the people who might want to buy a house there.”

He said there had been similar issues in his constituency of Scarborough and Whitby when campaigners against fracking had put up posters, leading people considering buying houses to wrongly believe specific areas that would not be near proposed fracking sites would be affected.

But Joe Rukin, Stop HS2's Campaign Manager, said: "Blaming the Stop HS2 campaign for the fact we've been lied to about the costs of this overblown white elephant for a decade is exactly what we've come to expect from proponents on HS2, that whenever there is criticism and whatever the facts are, they will deny everything and try and make up any old rubbish to con the public."

Undated file handout artist's impression of an HS2 train on the Birmingham and Fazeley viaduct, part of the proposed route for the HS2 high speed rail scheme. Photo: HS2/PA Wire

Undated file handout artist's impression of an HS2 train on the Birmingham and Fazeley viaduct, part of the proposed route for the HS2 high speed rail scheme. Photo: HS2/PA Wire

He added: "To try and suggest we have created a black hole worth billions for doing what the Government won't, and pointing out which areas of the country would be a building site for a decade, is disgraceful, deceitful and downright dishonest. As I said, it's exactly what we expect from proponents of HS2."

Mr Goodwill said he continued to stand behind the case for HS2, and rubbished the alternatives to upgrade existing infrastructure put forward by Lord Berkeley and others.

He said: “It’s absolutely vital that HS2 is built for the North of England.

“When people talk about the alternatives, when we did upgrade the mainline it caused chaos for five years, weekend closures, evening closures, which sometimes dragged over into Monday morning and affected the working week.

“One of the suggestions was that we could switch to a double decker train system, that would mean every single tunnel, every single bridge, every single crossing would have to change.

“We’re also past the point of no return. Contracts have been exchanged, there is no plan B.”

But Lord Berkeley said he wrote his "dissenting" or "minority" report because he disagreed with, and was not given the chance to amend, some conclusions of the draft report overseen by Doug Oakervee, the former HS2 Ltd chairman appointed by Mr Johnson to lead the review into "whether and how we should proceed" with the project.

The now defunct review panel's Deputy Chairman launched a scathing attack on the review in November, after a leaked draft recommended the high-speed railway should be built in full despite soaring costs.

Lord Berkeley linked the costs of HS2 to the fact it was planned around a specification "unnecessarily high and expensive" for a country the size of England, far smaller than other countries with high speed trains.

Lord Berkeley said while economic modelling by HS2 Ltd had arrived at a conclusion that benefits of the project would be more than twice its costs, his best estimate was for a benefits-to-costs ratio of less than one, and possibly as low as 0.6, making it "poor value for money".

He also said plans to build HS2 - compared to merely improving existing lines - were "not good for the environment".

However Craig Whittaker, Conservative MP for Calder Valley, dismissed Lord Berkeley’s report as “based on a biased opinion with no regard for the North”.

He said: “Forget the cost, in 50 years time if we need to expand due to the lack of a decision no, the cost will seem cheap.”

While Kevin Hollinrake, Tory MP for Thirsk and Malton, added: “[Lord Berkeley] focusses on North-South being already well-connected but misses a crucial point, a super-connected North is not as powerful unless super-connected to the other regions of the UK.

“For example, currently from Birmingham it takes just under two hours to get to Leeds and almost an hour and a half to Manchester. This would be reduced to 49 minutes and 40 minutes respectively.

“Northern Powerhouse Rail plus HS2 connects not just the North to the North, or North to the South.”

Not all Yorkshire MPs were supportive however, with Shipley Tory MP Philip Davies and Conservative MP for Rother Valley Alexander Stafford both vocal about their opposition to HS2.

Plus David Davies, MP for Haltemprice and Howden, said Lord Berkeley’s report “reinforces the view that HS2 been economically unviable for some time”.

The Conservative added: “It needs to be cancelled now and the money spent on smaller more useful transport projects.”

Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council, on behalf of the Connecting Britain Campaign - which backs HS2 - said: “We don’t much appreciate being told by a peer, who divides his time between London and Cornwall, what the North wants.”

And Henri Murison, Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership - which represents business and political leaders - rubbished Lord Berkeley’s analysis.

Mr Murison said: “Rather than listening to our businesses, our communities, and our civic leaders, who have passionately and consistently made the case for why the North both needs and deserves HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, Lord Berkeley has vented his frustration about the fact that his prejudices against HS2 were rightly challenged during the Oakervee review.

“He has therefore produced this unbalanced report which ignores the fact that the benefits of HS2 have been significantly underestimated.”

Lord Berkeley's report sparked a strong reaction from anti-HS2 campaigners


"The case for HS2 has always been poor, and is simply getting worse," said Penny Gaines, chairman of Stop HS2.

"It is time for this white elephant of a project to be cancelled as quickly as possible."

Stop HS2 Campaign Manager Joe Rukin added: “This report leaves HS2 so irrevocably damaged that there can surely be no choice left but to cancel it.

“Lord Berkeley has demonstrated that everything we have been saying is true.”

He said: “This report shows HS2 is beyond scandal, this report shows HS2 is nothing more than a decade long, calculated exercise to ignore the evidence, dismiss all criticism, bury the truth and defraud the taxpayer. HS2 must be cancelled immediately.”

The executive director of Greenpeace UK, John Sauven, said the Government needed to start listening to "HS2's critics" if they were serious about climate change.

"The protection of ancient woodlands must be a priority for rail development," he said.

Phase one of HS2 is planned to run between London and Birmingham. It was initially planned to launch in 2026, but a recent report by HS2 Ltd stated that this could be pushed back until 2031.

An HS2 Ltd spokesman said: "There have been many individual views expressed about the HS2 project, however we await the publication of the Government's official review."

A Department for Transport spokesman said: "The Government commissioned the Oakervee review to provide advice on how and whether to proceed with HS2, with an independent panel representing a range of viewpoints ... Lord Berkeley's report represents his personal view."