Prime Minister Boris Johnson has thrown the future of HS2 into doubt by launching an independent review into the controversial project, which could see it cancelled before the end of 2019.
The first phase of the project between London and Birmingham is set to open in 2026, with the second phase to Leeds and Manchester planned for 2032-33. However, costs for the project have spiralled with fears that it could cost over £100bn in total, which is almost double the figure of £56m that was initially suggested.
The independent review will examine whether HS2 Ltd is in a position to deliver the project effectively and will examine whether the project would offer good value for money to the taxpayer.
The experts undertaking the review will also be asked to consider environmental factors, particularly in light of the government’s recent commitment to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
A final decision on whether the project continues will be made before the end of the year, the government has said.
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.
Douglas Oakervee will lead the review and will work with Lord Berkeley as his deputy.
They will be supported by a panel of experts, bringing together a range of perspectives from business, academia and the transport sector to ensure an ‘independent, thorough and objective’ assessment of the project.
Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake, who also chairs Core Cities UK and will submit evidence to the review, said the UK needs to ‘get on with the job’ and start building HS2 ‘so its benefits can be realised as soon as possible and we can relieve the pressure on our creaking Victorian-era rail network.’
The review will examine how Northern Powerhouse Rail, a proposed rail network connecting major towns and cities in the North, could be ‘prioritised’ over southern sections of HS2.
A report from earlier this week by think tank IPPR North found that transport spending has risen twice as much per person in London than in the North since the launch of the Northern Powerhouse.
Read the terms of the review here.