There is a “degree of uncertainty” around the financial benefits of the Government’s HS2 high-speed rail project, an independent report prepared for MPs has said.
There is “relatively little evidence presented” on the regional and socio-economic impacts of the £32 billion HS2 programme, according to the report prepared for the House of Commons transport committee.
London was likely to benefit from HS2 “possibly at the expense of less service-oriented cities on the line”, said the report from consultants Oxera.
The report was published as the House of Commons transport committee held the first of five hearings into the HS2 scheme which involves a high-speed rail line from London to Birmingham to be completed in 2026.
There are also plans for a Y-shaped extension of the line to Manchester and Leeds and possibly further north which would be finished around 2032/33.
Having ruled out expansion at south east England airports, the coalition Government is firmly behind HS2.
But the route passed through beauty spots in Tory heartlands and while some local authorities and business leaders are firmly in favour of it, local residents’ groups and some councils are adamantly opposed.
In written evidence to the committee, the Department for Transport said analysis indicated that the proposed Y-shaped network would generate “monetised economic benefits with a net present value of around £44 billion”.
The Oxera report today said: “The monetised estimates are surrounded by a degree of uncertainty.
“The overall balance of non-monetised impacts - which include landscape, carbon and changes in land use - is difficult to ascertain.”
Oxera said that overall the case for a high-speed rail (HSR) programme seemed to depend on “whether and when the capacity is needed, the selection of the best value-for-money approach to delivering that capacity, the degree of uncertainty around the monetised benefits and costs of the preferred options, and judgments on the balance of evidence relating to non-monetised items, such as environment and regeneration impacts (which are likely to be substantive in their own right but not fully set out in the Government’s assessment)”.
Asking the question “Who benefits?” from HS2, the report added: “There is relatively little evidence presented on the regional and socio-economic impacts of the programme.”
The report went on: “There is evidence that those cities where the service sector (including tourism) counts for a large proportion of the economy, are the most likely to benefit from access to high-speed lines.
“London is thus very likely to benefit, possibly at the expense of less service-oriented cities on the line. In fact, a large proportion of the quantified benefits (34%) in the economic case are to long-distance passengers from London, so the regeneration effects (if they exist) would be large in London.”
Oxera also said that the regeneration benefits of areas in the vicinity of high-speed rail hubs are likely to be understated but that these may be offset by “economic losses in other areas, including locations not served by the high-speed line”.