Transport secretary Grant Shapps has named the 10-member independent review panel charged with probing the case for scrapping or tweaking the controversial High Speed Two rail network over the next four months.
It will be chaired by original Crossrail chairman Douglas Oakervee alongside Labour peer Lord Tony Berkeley as deputy, with support from Crossrail managing director Michele Dix, Network Rail chair Sir Peter Hendy and former PWC economist and Monetary Policy Committee member Andrew Sentance.
Joining them will be LSE professor Tony Travers, Imperial College London professor Stephen Glaister, Transport for the North chair John Cridland, West Midlands mayor Andy Street, and Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council leader Patrick Harley.
The review panel is formally tasked with re-evaluating the case for the new line, linking London to Birmingham, then adding spurs on to Manchester and Leeds, “by autumn” and ahead of a formal notice to proceed with the first phase of the project due before the end of this year.
However transport secretary Shapps said the review would also look at the project’s “deliverability and scope” and its phasing,as well as its relationship with Northern Powerhouse Rail. The review terms of reference said panel members would be tasked with looking at “whether and, if so how, Northern Powerhouse Rail, including the common sections with HS2 Phase 2b could be prioritised over delivering the southern sections of HS2”.
In one of his first speeches as prime minister last month, Boris Johnson pledged his support for a package of rail-upgrade measures for the north, once badged as “HS3”, promising further details after the HS2 Review.
According to the HS2 Review’s terms of reference, the panel will look at existing data in the coming months, but it is also asked to report on the likely costs of cancelling the project, changing its scope, recouping the money already spent on it and lessons that can be learned from other projects.
The government’s most recently published Major Projects Portfolio data for HS2 lists the price of the project as £55.7bn at 2015 prices.
Last month review panel deputy chair Berkeley told a House of Lords debate he feared there was a “concerted effort by officials and successive ministers to prevent scrutiny of the costs and programme”.
He told peers that the DfT had never satisfactorily challenged a cost estimate suggesting the real price-tag of the High Speed line would be £156bn. “The government just say they do not recognise it,” he said of the figure.
Berkeley also said the HS2 project had been affected by staff churn, which he said was “disastrous” for major infrastructure projects. He included former DfT perm sec Philip Rutnam’s move to the Home Office and the departure of DfT’s director general for HS2 David Prout to take up an Oxford University posting among his concerns.
Launching the review, Shapps said it was vital to look at key supporting facts for HS2 before proceeding with the project.
“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,” he said.
“That’s why we are undertaking this independent and rigorous review of HS2.
“Douglas Oakervee and his expert panel will consider all the evidence available, and provide the department with clear advice on the future of the project.”
Panel member Andy Street – the former managing director of retailer John Lewis who won the West Midlands mayoral race for the Conservatives in 2017 – said he could understand why Johnson had called the review.
“We need to make sure the management and budget of HS2 are under control and that the project provides value for money for taxpayers,” he said.
“The review means we have to make the business case for HS2 again and win the argument, which I am confident of doing.
“HS2 is vital for the West Midlands as it will free up rail capacity, drive huge economic growth, and is already creating jobs and building new homes.”
Greater Manchester’s Labour mayor Andy Burnham was more circumspect.
“While I am not opposed to looking at how we can ensure HS2 delivers value for money, people in the north will be wary of this review,” he said.
“There is no elected representative from the north on the review team and, too often, government promises to the north have proved to be about as reliable as our trains. If we are not careful, this review could add uncertainty and confusion just when the north needs clarity.”
However Burnham – a former Labour health secretary – said he was “encouraged” by the suggestion that an east-west link across the north that HS2 enabled could be prioritised over the southern sections of the line.