Plans to take high-speed rail to Manchester and Leeds are in doubt as a leaked copy of the official report into HS2 backed claims that the project could cost more than £100bn.
The Financial Times said it had seen a copy of the final review by former HS2 chairman Doug Oakervee, which argues that ‘on balance' ministers should proceed with the subject to ‘a number of qualifications’.
However, the report warns that there is ‘considerable risk’ that the scheme will cost as much as 20% more than the £81bn-£88bn range set out in a report by current HS2 chairman Allan Cook last September, the FT said.
This could potentially take the cost of the project to £106bn – very similar to the cost alleged by the former vice-chairman of the review, Lord Berkeley, in a dissenting report published this month.
The Oakervee review is alleged to recommend that work on phase 2b of the project, which would extend it from the West Midlands to Manchester and Leeds, be paused for six months for a study into whether it could comprise a mix of conventional and high-speed lines instead.
Also, further work is said to be needed to assess the scheme’s impacts on regional growth and the benefits without substantial additional local investment.
Significantly, the review reportedly ‘points out that no other high-speed line in the world runs 18 trains per hour and recommends reducing it to 14’.
This again backs a claim by Lord Berkeley, who pointed out that such a reduction would severely affect the scheme’s benefit-cost ratio.
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham was highly critical of the suggestion that HS2 might be built to a lower standard in the North. He said: ‘What I'm not going to accept is that we might get some kind of second-class option in the North'.
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: ‘A draft of the Oakervee Report was delivered shortly before Christmas. The transport secretary, chancellor and prime minister will take a final decision on HS2 shortly.’