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EXPLAINED: The recommendations of the Oakervee Review into HS2

EXPLAINED: The recommendations of the Oakervee Review into HS2
4 min read

In his independent review, Douglas Oakervee recommended that the beleaguered HS2 rail project go ahead, but with a number of caveats.


This is despite concerns over spiralling costs, poor management and delays - as well as severe criticism from the review’s former deputy chair, Lord Berkley.

He slammed the report as “dishonest” and asked for his name to be removed from credits after a leaked version was revealed to The Times in November.

The peer subsequently published his own report suggesting the project could cost as much as £108bn, rather than the stated price of £88bn.

CONCLUSIONS

“In providing its view to government, the Review considers that, on balance, Ministers should proceed with the HS2 project, subject to the following conclusions and a number of qualifications,” the report concluded.

The original rationale for HS2 still applies today, it argued, as there is still a need for greater capacity and reliability on the UK’s rail network. 

It also stated that there was no “shovel-ready” alternative to the project, and that sourcing one would be costly and time-consuming.

And full cancellation could have serious consequences for the supply chain and UK construction industry, it added.

Going ahead with part of the project was also not an option, as building the full network was essential to ensure high value for money. 

“The quickest way to deliver long-distance inter-city connectivity to the Midlands and the North of England is to continue with Phase One, and to fully commit to subsequent phases,” it stated.

On why costs had spiralled, the procurement strategy of Phase One of the project was blamed, as well as poor management on behalf of HS2 Ltd.

It set the current price tag at £88bn for all phases, with the final section set to be completed between 2035 and 2040.

RECOMMENDATIONS

The Government should recommit to the full Y-shaped network, linking Phase One to Manchester, the East Midlands, Yorkshire, and beyond. 

It should also ensure that HS2 Ltd is procuring contractors which are reasonably priced and provide a good standard of engineering, and require them to reprocure if contractors aren’t up to scratch. 

HS2 should be integrated into existing transport infrastructure and future strategies, especially those seeking to improve inter-city and inter-region transport.

It was also suggested that the Department for Transport and the Treasury publish a new business case for HS2, setting out the latest costs, benefits and impacts of the project.

Specifications for Phase One of the line, such as the number of trains per hour, should be adjusted to make them more realistic.

And HS2 Ltd governance should be overhauled by setting clear milestones, improving accountability and asking the company to set out how it intends to improve in areas such as cost estimation.

Both the Government and HS2 Ltd also need to improve how they deal with affected communities, and the speed at which they are compensated.

In addition, impact on woodland, landscape and biodiversity should be kept under constant review throughout the duration of the project.

There are opportunities in the design of Phase 2b to avoid, reduce or mitigate negative impacts, the report suggests.

ANALYSIS

Oakervee said that capacity, connectivity and economic growth - HS2’s key objectives - can be best achieved by building the project in full, which is music to Boris Johnson’s ears. 

One of the biggest concerns surrounding the controversial project has been the cost. First, it was meant to cost £50bn, now it’s priced at £88bn and some suggest it could cost as much as £100bn. 

Oakervee has accounted for this on both sides; HS2 Ltd needs to say how it’ll improve its cost estimations, and the Government needs to publish its own cost-benefit overview of the line. 

Though many have pointed the finger squarely at the project’s management, this report puts the onus to keep cost down on both HS2 Ltd and MPs’ shoulders.

It’s now down to Whitehall to keep an eye on which contractors they’re hiring and whether key milestones have been hit.

The report is also calling for a bit more flexibility to avoid failure. Reducing the number of trains per hour, while allowing for an increase in the future, takes the heat off Phase One.

And, allowing wiggle room in the design of the later phases to reduce environmental and community impact is a good way of quietening critics for a little while at least.

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