HS2 review hit by resignation over 'whitewash'

Ben Gartside
A placard for Stop HS2 campaign sits at the bottom of a tree at a development site for the High Speed 2 rail in Harefield, Britain Photo: Simon Dawson/Reuters

The review into High Speed Rail 2 has been hit with a high profile resignation as a key author has asked to be removed from a late draft of the report, calling the report a “whitewash”.

The deputy chair of the report, Lord Berkeley, has written to chair Douglas Oakervee asking to be removed as an author, after the report endorsed the government pressing ahead with the controversial infrastructure project.

In a letter leaked to CityAM, Berkeley said: “As Deputy Chair I would have expected to be able to attend the meetings that you had with ministers, officials and HS2 from non-execs downward, but I was not invited.

“There was also a marked reluctance from officials and/or you [Oakervee] to delve more deeply into the costs of the project, with long delays in arranging meetings with HS2, something I asked for in my first week on the Review.”

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Berkeley also critiqued the lack of a “proper comparison” between official cost estimates and those of an independent expert Michael Byng.

Berkeley continued in his letter: “I cannot support its conclusions or recommendations, and have serious problems with its lack of balance.

“The lack of balance is reflected in the often unquestioning acceptance of information provided by HS2 Limited and a failure to scrutinise the involvement of HM Treasury and the Department for Transport in the development of the project.”

Berkeley described Oakervee’s review as a “whitewash”, and “a very good marketing document for HS2.”

The cost for the project has ballooned from an initial £56bn in 2015 to an excess of £88bn now.

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Despite criticism, business groups still support the controversial infrastructure project. Speaking to CityAM, the CBI’s UK policy director Matthew Fell said: “HS2 is more than just a railway line, it’s a key that unlocks future jobs, training and regeneration opportunities that will benefit us all.”

The British Chamber of Commerce included it in their list of policy goals it expects from parties at the general election.

The Federation of Small Businesses responded to the initial announcement of a review by saying: “For the good of UK small firms and the economy as a whole, it’s vital that the HS2 project remains on track. The stop-start approach to major transport investment that’s held our economy back for decades has to end.”

Responding to Berkeley’s resignation, report chair Oakervee said: “I regret that Lord Berkeley feels unable to give his support. He participated fully in panel discussions that have seen all other members converge their views, based on the extensive evidence considered.

“I should nevertheless like to thank Lord Berkeley for his time and valued contribution to a number of sections of the draft report.”