HS2 Rail Project Comes Under Renewed Attack
A public spending watchdog has delivered another blow to the Government's £50bn high speed rail line plans, saying it has "yet to present a convincing strategic case" to justify the investment.
MPs on the Public Accounts Committee warned that plans for HS2 are based on "fragile numbers, out-of-date data and assumptions which do not reflect real life".
The committee's chairwoman, Margaret Hodge MP, said: "The Department for Transport has yet to present a convincing strategic case for High Speed 2.
"It has not yet demonstrated that this is the best way to spend £50bn on rail investment in these constrained times, and that the improved connectivity will promote growth in the regions rather than sucking even more activity into London."
The first phase of HS2 - a line which would connect London to Birmingham in just 49 minutes - is due to break ground in 2017.
Among the committee's many criticisms are that the estimated cost of phase one has already increased from £16.3bn to £21.4bn.
Having botched calculations of its benefits, economists have been forced to reduce their forecasts of the potential return on investment.
The evidence used to show its benefits was so out of date that it failed to recognise business travellers were able to work on trains using laptops and other mobile devices.
The committee has called for a fresh analysis of HS2's potential to be carried out before giving the green light to phase two which would extend it to Manchester and Leeds.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin told Sky News: "The trouble with a lot of these reports is that by the time they surface, they can be out of date.
"But I'm determined that the points made points made by the National Audit Office are the points we address in the department and that we use those points to get it right."
In a separate interview on Monday, he insisted the project was "vitally important" for Britain and would be delivered on budget.
"The budget is very clear. It is a £42bn budget, including a £14bn contingency. The Mayor of London says it'll be 70, someone else says it'll be 80, soon we'll have someone saying it's £100bn," he said. "The simple fact is we've got to deliver it within that budget.
"I believe it is for the benefit of the long-term future of the United Kingdom. If we are going to be able to compete globally, we need to be able to attract businesses to our cities.
"To attract businesses to our cities, there need to be good connections. That is vitally important to the future of this country long term."
Although HS2 has the backing of the three main political parties, some individuals who originally supported the scheme - such as the former chancellor Alistair Darling - have turned against it.
The Institute of Directors has labelled it a "grand folly" and called for it to be scrapped after a survey of business leaders found they were unconvinced by the economic case behind it.
Prime Minister David Cameron has announced a campaign to bolster support for the project in the face of what he called an "unholy alliance" of critics.
The Government is expected to present a renewed economic argument in favour of HS2 later this week.
Shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle said: "The delays and increased costs that are leading to criticism of HS2 are a direct result of David Cameron's failure to get a grip on this vital infrastructure project.
"Labour remains firmly committed to building a new north-south rail line because it is the only credible way to tackle the growing capacity problems on our rail network.
"There is no reason why the new north-south rail line cannot be delivered within the budget that has now been set, but there can be no blank cheque and ministers must ensure it remains on budget and on track."