Is HS2 (the proposed High Speed Rail link between London and the North) value for money? A new report by the House of Lords Economic Affairs Select Committee says not - or at least that the government has failed to make a sound economic case.
The construction of the railway and purchase of rolling stock is estimated to cost up to £50 billion. The net cost to the taxpayer is expected to be £31.5 billion at 2011 prices over 60 years. This is a costly project. You would think then that a sound case had been made. But the committee concludes that such a case has not been made.
The Government's principal justification for building HS2 is to provide capacity to meet long-term rail demand. But the committee finds that inadequate information on rail usage and demand modelling makes it difficult to determine whether this is correct. Overcrowding appears to be caused by commuter traffic, not long-distance traffic, and is exacerbated by inflexible pricing.
The main charge of the committee is that alternatives have not been considered, and the committee concludes it is impossible to agree with the Government that HS2 is the only solution to increase capacity on the rail network. Furthermore it argues that additional capacity could be provided by incremental improvements to the existing network, a new conventional railway line, or a new high-speed line (of which HS2 is only one option).
"These options have not been assessed equally, with only HS2 receiving serious consideration by the Government" is the damning conclusion of the committee. It is even more abrasive when it considers the impact on the economy.
"We do not believe that the Government has shown that HS2 is the best way of stimulating growth in the country. While investment outside London is long overdue, evidence and experience from other countries has suggested that London would be the biggest beneficiary of a project such as HS2."
The government has failed to listen to the concerns about the environmental impact and pushed on with the project without having made an assessment of the likely damage. The did so arguing that the economic case for HS2 was overwhelming. It isn't.