Doubt over future of HS2 East Midlands line resurface

Midlands business leaders have called on the government to back HS2, despite leaked a report saying that the rail link could cost as much as £106bn.

The move comes after a leak of the HS2 Oakervee Review in the Financial Times which says that the second phase of HS2, which would pass through the East Midlands at Toton, should be put on hold for six months to see if it could be made up of a mix of standard and high-speed rail.

Midlands Connect Chairman Sir John Peace says he has written to the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, urging him to publish the Oakervee review in full as soon as possible, and warning him again that any delay or downgrade of High Speed Two would be a betrayal of the Midlands and the North.

In the letter, issued following a leak of the HS2 Oakervee Review in the Financial Times, Peace told the Prime Minister to publish the full Oakervee review as soon as possible to end uncertainty.

He said: “The tone of today’s Oakervee review leak in the Financial Times is of serious concern. Further leaks and uncertainty are simply unacceptable. The time has come to release the review and give the Midlands, our businesses and investors the certainty we need to plan for a bright future.

“To delay and downgrade HS2 north of Birmingham would be a betrayal of the Midlands and the North. We need a modern, fast and reliable railway to link our great towns and cities sustainably.

“The cost is high, but the need is even greater. You have said yourself that HS2 is likely to cost over £100 billion. That figure is reached simply by adding 2% inflation to the £88 billion that HS2 Chairman Allan Cook estimated in the Autumn.

“I met with and wrote to Douglas Oakervee several times during his review. I made it clear that HS2’s current economic case greatly underestimates the full economic benefits of the project. It ignores development plans around new high speed stations across the Midlands and the North.

“Any further delay or downgrades of the project will send the wrong message to the people of our region, but it will also send the wrong message to foreign investors who see Britain as an opportunity for growth after Brexit.

“We need HS2 more than ever. I would welcome the opportunity to meet you at your earliest convenience and allay any fears you may have about pushing ahead with this vital project.”

Meanwhile, CBI East Midlands regional director Richard Blackmore has urged the government to “back it, build it, benefit from it”.

He said: “Completing HS2 in its entirety will be a shot in the arm for businesses and communities across the country.

“As we enter a new decade it’s vital we lift our aspirations and commit to the West Midlands by using this project to unlock their economic potential. The costs of not building HS2 are far higher in communities that have been left behind – with commuter trains filled to capacity and businesses struggling to grow. HS2 is key to tackling the productivity gap and helping the regions level up.

“Government should listen to the regional demand for HS2 and back it, build it, and benefit from it.”