The Critical List No 1: Transport Minister does High Speed Two Step
The Department for Transport has handed campaigners against High Speed 2 a stick with which to beat the Government.
Patrick McLoughlin Member of Parliament for Derbyshire Dales and Secretary of State for Transport since replacing Justine Greening barely more than a month ago, has moved quickly to counter suggestions that last Wednesday’s West Coast mainline, franchise debacle, might slow or halt the government’s plans for High Speed 2 (HS2)
The government intends to build a high-speed rail link between London and the north. The minister, speaking in Birmingham at a Conservative Party Conference fringe event, allowed that there were many legal hurdles still to clear but nevertheless confirmed the Government’s commitment to the project and argued that the first London to Birmingham railway took just five years to build and suggested that Britain could still achieve similar feats.
The minister insisted that the West Coast debacle and HS2 were two separate cases and should not be muddled up.
A decision by the Department for Transport (DfT) to award the West Coast contract to First Group, a transport operator, was overturned last week when it was discovered that much of the financial modelling on which First Group had based its bid was flawed or suspect.
Three Civil Servants from the DfT have been suspended but no one in Government has come forward to admit responsibility for the shambles which, according to a report in The Daily Telegraph, a newspaper, is likely to cost the British taxpayer in excess of £40 million.
Campaigners against HS2 have been handed a stick with which to beat the government. They have always claimed that the economic case for HS2 (which will cost more than £30bn if it comes in on budget) is based on faulty figures. Now they have clear evidence that the department is not to be trusted with a calculator.
Some commentators feel that the minister’s outspoken support for the project lays to rest the rumours that David Cameron and George Osborne have both gone off the idea of HS2.
However, some comment on HS2 was inevitable given that Birmingham is hosting the Conference and will be a major “beneficiary” of the project if it goes ahead. The Birmingham Chamber of Commerce reckons that HS2 is worth £1.5bn of additional investment and 22,000 jobs to the West Midlands.
The minister’s support for the project might have carried more weight if it had made it onto the main stage instead of being relegated to a side-show.
And Michael Ward, president of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce who once again welcomed “the minister’s, and indeed the three main political parties', support for HS2” might sleep better on Wednesday night if one of the parties' bigger beasts got up on Wednesday, the last day of the Conference, and nailed the whole subject once and for all.
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