The Government’s decision to review the HS2 rail project has been branded “bizarre” by a former transport secretary.
Labour’s Lord Adonis warned that the fundamental review of the multibillion-pound high-speed rail project could lead to its cancellation.
He told the Lords there was a clear “left-hand, right-hand problem” in the Government’s handling of the scheme, which would only add to costs and delays.
Lord Adonis said construction work is under way with billions already spent after Parliament backed the scheme.
“It’s this that makes the review which has been set up so bizarre,” he told peers.
“At the same time as Parliament has given express and overwhelming authority for this work to proceed, thousands of people are being employed, and billions of pounds have been spent … the Government parachutes in a fundamental review.”
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Lord Adonis likened this to conducting “open heart surgery on a moving patient” and urged ministers to continue with the project in a bid to catch up with other industrialised nations on high-speed rail.
His comments came as the Lords was set to back the second reading of the High Speed Rail (West Midlands – Crewe) Bill and agree to it being carried over to the next parliamentary session.
HS2 is proposed to open between London and Birmingham in December 2026, with a second Y-shaped phase launching in two stages.
Phase 2a from the West Midlands to Crewe is scheduled to begin in 2027, followed by phase 2b from Crewe to Manchester, and Birmingham to Leeds, in 2033.
The Government announced in August a “go or no go” review into the proposed £55.7 billion scheme, with reports later suggesting costs were spiralling.
Transport minister Baroness Vere of Norbiton said the review would test all the existing evidence to allow ministers to make properly informed decisions.
But she said Transport Secretary Grant Shapps had made clear it should not unnecessarily delay HS2 with preparatory work continuing.
Giving the Bill a second reading did not affect the conduct of the review or pre-judge its outcome because it sought “permissive powers” to be able to build the second stage but did not require the line from the West Midlands to Crewe to be built.
Lady Vere said the new line would help meet increased demand for rail travel, improve connectivity between towns and cities and boost economic growth.
For the Opposition, Lord Tunnicliffe said Labour still supported the project although it had “steered off course”.
The line was due to be built as a network rather than a “stand alone piece of infrastructure”, he said.
Former BBC director-general and independent crossbencher Lord Birt backed the Bill, saying the rail network had long been a disgrace.
But Tory Lord Framlingham, a consistent critic of the scheme, said the “discredited” project should be scrapped, with costs out of control and completion dates a “joke”.
“It’s criminal to be felling trees in preparation for something that probably is never going to be built,” he said.
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