“The £104bn HS2 cover-up: Government refuses to publish report into whether the controversial rail route should be scrapped”

“Ministers were under fire last night after suppressing a key report into HS2 overseen by the country’s most senior civil servant.

The review assessed whether the UK’s biggest ever infrastructure project is on budget and provides value for money for taxpayers.

It was led by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, which reports to the Cabinet Office, led by Sir Jeremy Heywood.

The review was concluded last summer, before the legislation required to build the first phase of the high-speed railway, between London and Birmingham, received Royal Assent.

But although the key findings were relayed to Sir Jeremy Heywood and the government spending watchdog, the National Audit Office, the report has never been published.

Sir Jeremy was nicknamed Sir Cover-Up after preventing the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq War from seeing letters and records of phone calls between Tony Blair and George Bush.

The Government was last night under fierce pressure to release the findings after a rail expert warned that the London to Birmingham phase will cost £403million per mile to build, making it the most expensive railway in the world

How cash could be spent

An east to west high-speed trans-Pennine rail link – nicknamed HS3 – connecting Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and Hull.

The electrification of the mainline between London and South Wales. Completion of this project has been delayed until 2024.

Improving rail links between London, Devon and Cornwall.

Rebuilding the vulnerable Dawlish coastal line between Exeter and Newton Abbot in Devon which has been repeatedly battered by storms and floods.

Reopening the Great Central passenger line between Burton upon Trent and Leicester. It was closed to passengers in the late 1960s as part of the Beeching cuts. Only freight trains now run on the line.

Electrification of the Valley lines in South Wales.

The calculations were produced by Michael Byng, the expert who devised the standard method used by Network Rail to cost its projects.

He told The Sunday Times that using his method the London to Birmingham phase, would cost almost £48billion – double the official estimate.

He claims the full scheme, including extensions to Manchester and Leeds, would cost up to £104billion. The first 6.6 miles, from Euston station in London to Old Oak Common, would cost £8.25billion, or £1.25billion a mile.
The Department for Transport stressed that it had not commissioned the report but said it would look at the figures.

One furious MP described a ‘pattern of concealment’ over HS2, with the Government also refusing to publish two critical Cabinet Office reports conducted in 2011 and 2012 on the project.

Ministers were finally forced to publish them in 2015, after losing a case in the Supreme Court brought by campaigners.

The Infrastructure and Projects Authority concluded last year that the £55.7billion project was £9billion over budget.

Sir Jeremy identified £9billion of savings that could be made, but because the full report has still to be published it remains unclear how he came to his conclusions.

Campaigners expressed fears that Sir Jeremy’s report had exaggerated the cost savings that could be made.

Opponents of HS2 believe the findings of the latest Cabinet Office investigation into the high-speed link have been kept quiet by ministers anxious to press ahead with the new railway without delay.

Cheryl Gillan, Tory MP for Chesham and Amersham, said: ‘No report on a project which uses so much taxpayers’ money should remain secret.

‘There is a pattern of concealment, with previous reports also withheld. If this report was positive the Government would have had no hesitation making it public.

‘This will make the public believe there is something highly risky about this project – which people like me know is the case.’

Andrew Bridgen, Tory MP for North West Leicestershire, said: ‘This white elephant is growing bigger and bigger.

‘It is especially galling to waste such eye watering sums on this disastrous vanity project when there are such pressing things to invest public money in.’

A fresh row is expected to erupt today as the Government announces the final route of the Manchester and Leeds arms of HS2.

Homes on a new housing estate in Mexborough could be bulldozed to allow the line to run into Sheffield city centre.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling will stress the economic benefits of HS2 as he announces the winners of the first stage of the major construction contracts for the line. He will say the Government expects that the £6.6billion in contracts will support 16,000 jobs.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: ‘HS2 will become the backbone of our national rail network – creating more seats for passengers, supporting growth and regeneration and helping us build an economy that works for all.
‘We are keeping a tough grip on costs and the project is on time and on budget at £55.7billion.’ “