By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter
A new blow has been struck against the HS2 scheme. George Osborne's Treasury has been reluctant to approve new spending on the project, the Sunday Telegraph reports. The newspaper says that there is a “major risk” that the Bill to introduce the scheme will not come before Parliament by the end of next year: the deadline Ministers have set.
Last year, a number of Ministers, including the Chancellor, sounded positive and supportive of HS2 – using it, and a change in planning regulations, as evidence the Government was "unashamedly pro-growth", or words to that effect. However, anti-HS2 campaigners pointed out that, even though initial cost estimates for the scheme were high enough, they would soon increase and, in any case, the benefits HS2 offered were not worth the outlay. The Sunday Telegraph reports that since last year, "the official cost benefit analysis has twice cut the expected economic benefits of the line". That gap between potential cost of the scheme and the possible benefit derived from it appears to have seriously damaged HS2 in the eyes of the Treasury.
Last weekend, another blow against HS2 was struck. The Sunday Telegraph revealed that the project had a “red amber” rating in a report from the Cabinet Office’s Major Project Authority, meaning "successful delivery" of HS2 "is in doubt, with major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas. Urgent action is needed to ensure these are addressed, and whether resolution is feasible." That Cabinet Office report, which is protected from freedom of information requestions for two years, should be released to the public, according to David Lidington, the Europe Minister (and the MP for the HS2 target of Aylesbury), who wrote a letter to Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office Minister, saying: “My constituents have expressed their concern that this does not allow those with an interest in the proposals to review the MPA’s findings and contradicts the Government’s commitment to be transparent”.
The third blow against HS2 was the fact that nothing concerning the scheme was featured in the Queen's Speech. Defenders of the project would argue that it wasn't due to be before Parliament until next year, and so wouldn't have featured in the Queen's Speech while planning and consulation, etc, is ongoing. However, leaving such a gap between the initial announcement of HS2 last year, and the presentation of legislation next year, is likely to empower anti-HS2 forces, not least because the Treasury is likely to have committed to spending on other projects by 2013. The Treasury clearly understands this fact because, as this morning's story says, George Osborne is reluctant to spend on the project.