Chris Grayling 'not doing his job in holding HS2 bosses to account', says Yorkshire MP Rachael Maskell

A Yorkshire MP has accused Transport Secretary Chris Grayling of failing to hold the bosses behind the controversial HS2 scheme to account as she called for greater scrutiny of the project.

Thursday, 11th July 2019, 2:09 pm
Field archaelogists excavate a late 18th to mid 19th century cemetery under St James Gardens near Euston train station in London on November 1, 2018 as part of the HS2 high-speed rail project.

Speaking at a Westminster Hall debate about the business case for the high speed rail scheme connecting London with cities like Birmingham, Leeds, and Manchester, York Central MP Rachael Maskell said the main issues were with the management of the scheme, rather than with the scheme itself.

She spoke after a Tory MP from the South East questioned whether the cost of building HS2, which MPs heard could be more than £100 billion, is worth it, saying there are more cost-effective ways to boost employment in the UK.

Field archaelogists excavate a late 18th to mid 19th century cemetery under St James Gardens near Euston train station in London on November 1, 2018 as part of the HS2 high-speed rail project.

The official budget of the high speed rail link is £55.7 billion, a figure which Transport minister Nusrat Ghani said she is "confident" is still accurate. MPs heard, however, the final cost could end up being more than £100 billion.

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Leading the debate, Tory former Commons leader Andrea Leadsom said the current business case for HS2 "bears little resemblance" to what Parliament had initially voted on and called for it to be subject to a full review.

Ms Leadsom, MP for South Northamptonshirem, said: "I am alarmed at just how much the business case for HS2 has changed since the project was initially proposed."

York Central MP Rachael Maskell, who is Shadow Transport Minister

She added: "There are concerns, as honourable members have already set out, that have been raised by industry experts and former whistle blowers from the company, that the total cost for HS2 may very well be in excess of £100 billion."

Shadow transport minister Ms Maskell said the main issues are with the management of the scheme, rather than with the scheme itself, and said Transport Secretary Chris Grayling is "not doing his job in calling HS2 to account".

Ms Maskell said HS2 could bring positives, including helping reducing carbon emissions by getting cars off the roads and getting more road-based freight onto trains.

She said improved connectivity and reliability are central to this, and said HS2 has a vital role to play in helping with the "rebirthing" of economies in the Midlands.

She said, however, that the project must be peer-reviewed to make sure the engineering and the value are right. On Monday she will be tabling an amendment to the legislation for an earlier section of HS2 to allow greater scrutiny of the project.

Ms Maskell added: "The final phase of the project—the 2b stage—has to be fully integrated with trans-Pennine connectivity. This should be one project, not two segregated projects; it needs integrating.

"We hear that call from Transport for the North, and we hear it now from HS2, and we certainly hear the call from politicians across the north that it is time we brought those projects together into one.

"There are proposals for constructing things differently from the current Y shape and for making this much more about ensuring, first and foremost, that we get the connectivity across the north. The case was made very clearly in the House of Lords through the paper 'Rethinking High Speed 2', and we would certainly support that."

Labour former minister Liam Byrne, however, said HS2 is vital to boost jobs, especially in Birmingham. He said the Midlands risked being pushed into recession unless the project goes ahead.

Mr Byrne, representing Birmingham Hodge Hill, said: "If we measure what we treasure we will see quite clearly that High Speed 2 is one of the best value for money projects that this country has contemplated for many, many years."

He added: "Coming from Birmingham, what I treasure is jobs. That's because we have had the slowest jobs recovery of any city region since the financial crisis, and High Speed 2 brings lots and lots of jobs. Not at some distant point in the future, but in the next five years."

He said if HS2 was cancelled he would "bet his bottom dollar" the Midlands would be put back into recession within a year. He said east Birmingham has some of the worst unemployment and youth unemployment in the country.

He added: "We have a chance ahead of us to wipe that youth unemployment out, but only if we grasp the nettle in driving through High Speed 2."

Ms Prentis, however, said: "I do not feel that £100 billion is worth some jobs in Birmingham. I think there may be other ways in assisting with employment in Birmingham than spending £100 billion of taxpayer's money."

She added: "HS2 is a white elephant that is trampling over the dreams and aspirations of my constituents and I cannot support it."

Transport Minister Ms Ghani said: "If we just reflect on the infrastructure we have in place at the moment, it is 150 years old, it is an over-stretched Victorian network."

She said many parts of the network are already operating at peak capacity, and are expected to see further growth in coming years, and said HS2 is "crucial" to keep the UK moving. She said jobs and small businesses are boosted by the "ambitious" project.

Despite fears of delays and spiralling costs, Ms Ghani said: "I can confidently stand here today and say the budget is £55.7 billion, and the timetable is 2026 and 2033."