The Department for Transport (DfT) has denied that it has the final report of the 'independent' HS2 review but has refused to clarify its own role in the rewriting of the 'draft' document.
Although the BBC claimed last week that it has seen the 'full and final' report, DfT press officers have continued to maintain that the department has only received a 'draft report' and that review chair Doug Oakervee is still working on the final document.
The BBC's account of the report is markedly different to an earlier version seen by Lord Berkeley who was deputy chair of the review but quit, refusing to put his name to what he saw as a whitewash in favour of the scheme.
Whose draft is it anyway?
So why the difference between the early draft report, the DfT's 'draft' report and the BBC's 'final' report?
Lord Berkeley has alleged a programme of 'continuous improvement' is taking place i.e. sexing up the document to ensure that HS2 is approved.
The DfT has repeatedly stated that ‘a draft of the Oakervee Report was delivered shortly before Christmas’, adding that the transport secretary, chancellor and prime minister would take a final decision on the project ‘shortly’.
It has now admitted that after receiving the 'draft report' from Mr Oakervee it tasked a group of officials to carry our further research but denied this would see them work on the report itself.
When asked whether the work of these officials would influence the final report, a press officer stated that 'Oakervee is writing the report' but refused to say whether the DfT would edit the report or ask Mr Oakervee to do so on the basis of this further work.
When asked to confirm or deny whether the department would make an changes to the draft or final report, the spokesman repeated the phrase 'Oakervee is writing the report' and once again refused to engage with the question of influence or editing.
The spokesman also claimed that the report was still in draft reform - and so running months late - because of the general election, depite the fact the final report was due to be handed in before the election in the autumn, that the case for HS2 predates the general election anouncement by some years and the fact that the review was supposed to be 'independent' of politics.
Andy McDonald, Labour's shadow transport sectretary, told Transport Network: ‘Ministers have had Doug Oakervee’s HS2 review for months. They should publish the report, make the necessary revisions to the project and get on with HS2.’
The BBC and a 'sexed-up' document
The BBC correspondent who reported the most recent leak described the report as ‘supportive’, despite the report apparently acknowledging that ‘the latest results indicate that the full y-shaped network represents “low-medium” value for money’.
Last week, former deputy chair Lord Berkeley told Transport Network that leaks of what the BBC described as the ‘full and final’ report were very different from a draft that he saw in October.
He said: ‘'I suspect there has been continuous improvement [of the case for HS2] without anyone knowing.’
Significantly, according to the BBC journalist who has seen the ‘full and final’ report, it recommends that the DfT should produce a revised business case for the project.
This would reportedly include ‘reducing the central planning assumption for HS2 to a more realistic 14 trains per hour (current plan is for 18 trains per hour, which has never been achieved anywhere in the world), while future-proofing the scheme for 16tph and noting a loss of assumed benefits.
This appears to confirm a key point made by Lord Berkeley, a longstanding critic of HS2, that a business case based on 18 trains per hour is unrealistic.
According to leaks from the report, it argues that ‘Initial analysis suggests that a move below 16 tph would likely have a marginal negative impact on the Benefit Cost Ratio’.