Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary has accused the Department for Transport of keeping the review into HS2 “sitting in a safe” for weeks as pressure mounts on the Government to decide on the future of the scheme.
Supporters of the project met in Westminster today in an 11th-hour bid to garner support for the rail network, which the Government is expected to make a decision on soon.
The Oakervee Review, which looked into whether HS2 should go ahead - and if so, how, was first due for release last year but this was delayed by the election.
And a dissenting report by the review’s former Deputy Chairman Lord Tony Berkeley was published earlier this month which slammed the money spent on the scheme,
But at the event today, organised by group Connecting Britain, Andy McDonald said the review “has been sitting in the DfT safe for weeks and weeks and weeks”.
He said: “We know it’s there, we want the damn thing published, it’s no good the dissenting voice coming out and telling us what he thinks, we want the majority report and we’ve all got a pretty good idea what it says.”
Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris replied: “Well I’ve just learned something from Andy because I didn’t know we had a safe in the department.”
The Yorkshire Post understands the release of the Oakervee Review is expected in coming weeks, and Mr Heaton-Harris said both HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail were “super important to what the whole government is trying to deliver”.
He added: “Transport is key to that mission, and nothing binds us all together more than efficient, reliable transport links, and on occasions as I've seen with rail recently, nothing unites us more than when they're not working, and how people really do get sore when they're not working properly for them.”
Jason McCartney, the newly-elected Conservative MP for Colne Valley, spoke at the meeting and said he despaired at the situation with HS2.
He said: “I despair, quite frankly, at all of this.”
He said he backed Northern leaders’ words on why HS2 was needed but said: “But whenever we read quotes in the regional press, The Yorkshire Post in my part of the world, support for HS2 has so many caveats, so many conditions, so many qualifications that it just undermines the whole case, it gives energy to the cynics, and it's being undermined all the time.”
Tory West Midlands Mayor Andy Street added that to win people over, the champions of the project needed to speak to people outside the room who needed convincing, rather than operating in an echo chamber.
He said as someone who was involved in the Oakervee Review, he is “utterly confident” in the “strong economic case which will eventually show through”, and he hinted that everyone except Lord Berkeley had agreed on the report’s conclusions, suggesting it will recommend the scheme goes ahead.
“The case is there, it is sound [...] the decision is absolutely ready for the Government to take,” he said.
But he added: “We've actually got to influence the decision makers in London. The title of this event is Connecting Britain not connecting the Midlands and the North, and I think we should just pause a moment and think about how you're actually influencing the decision makers.”
The meeting comes after a study suggested most business leaders in London believed the high-speed rail project costs too much and will cause too much disruption while being built.
A survey of 500 businesses in the capital indicated that only two out of five believe the line would boost the UK economy.
The London Chamber of Commerce said its poll found that nearly three quarters of business leaders think HS2 costs too much and two thirds feel its construction has or will cause too much disruption.
Almost half did not believe that HS2 was necessary.