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Two likely less than one

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HS2: Ministers and bosses knew railway was over budget years ago, By Tom Burridge, Transport correspondent, BBC News

On Friday [9 July 2021], Labour peer Lord Berkeley wrote to the Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, asking him to ‘consider’ whether ministers had broken the ministerial code regarding the High Speed Two railway during Theresa May’s premiership (the Daily Telegraph reported on 10 July).

The peer’s letter highlighted ‘new evidence’ showing that ministers were told in April 2019 that the line “could not be delivered to the current scope within the current schedule and budget” and cited several occasions where ‘it was made clear to government figures that the scheme would exceed its budget, including at a conference in 2015 at which officials were told costs could top £100 billion’.

The article also claimed that unredacted minutes of HS2 Ltd’s June 2021 board meeting ‘seen’ by the Telegraph stated that the ’emerging’ central case benefit-cost ratio (BCR) for the Crewe to Manchester section of HS2 is ‘likely to be below one (i.e. poor value for money)’. 

'Plurality of Britons Aware of HS2 Oppose its Development', regional support poll, R&W Strategies, 
July 9, 2021

Written by beleben

July 12, 2021 at 11:58 am

Posted in Politics

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Significantly greater weakness

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Earlier this year, “MPs in Leeds City Region” were emphasising that the eastern leg of the HS2 railway had a ‘very high’ benefit cost ratio, ‘most significantly, greater than that of the Western leg’.

tweet from @richard_rail about the benefit cost ratio of the eastern leg of HS2, 29 May 2020

But according to Andrew Adonis, speaking in the House of Lords on 30 November 2020, the HS2 eastern leg has the “weakest” of the benefit cost ratios.

[Andrew Adonis | House of Lords | High Speed Rail (West Midlands–Crewe) Bill | Volume 808: debated on Monday 30 November 2020]

“[…] The situation, which is well known in the Department for Transport and among those with whom I speak, is as follows. Dominic Cummings tried to cancel HS2. To be blunt, he does not much like Governments of any form doing big projects, but he certainly does not like big state projects of this kind. He wrestled very hard with the Prime Minister after the last election to get him to cancel HS2 outright. The Prime Minister believes in big infrastructure projects. When I was Transport Secretary, I had big discussions with him. There are many things he has no fixed belief on, but he has been prepared to commit to big transport infrastructure projects that will connect the country. He was persuaded of the case for HS2, and when the decision had to be made in February about going ahead with the first phase of HS2, from London to Birmingham, he gave that commitment. What then happened was that Dominic Cummings moved on to the eastern leg, because the weakest of the BCRs — benefit to cost ratios — is for the eastern leg. The reason the weakest BCR is for the eastern leg is very straightforward: the cities served in the east of the country are smaller than those in the west. But we are supposed to be about levelling up. That is the whole philosophy of the Government. So the fact that the BCRs are lower for the east is not a reason for not proceeding with HS2 East; it is an essential reason for proceeding.” […]

Written by beleben

December 2, 2020 at 4:32 pm

Don’t mention James

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This month, people have been invited ‘at random’ by letter to take part in the ‘largest Covid-19 testing research study in England’ which is being conducted by Imperial College and, er, Ipsos Mori.

Ipsos Mori Covid 19 survey letter, 7 October 2020

The public’s take-up of this invitation seems to have been affected by perceptions of incompetence in the handling of Covid-19. New letters have been sent out to nudge people into taking part, with different wording.

Covid-19 study letter sent out by Ipsos Mori, dated 15 October 2020

One of most notable changes in the reworded letter is the absence of Lord Bethell, ‘Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Care’.

A.k.a. James Bethell, whose company Westbourne Communications did PR for fracking company Cuadrilla, and the astroturf ‘Campaign for High Speed Rail’ for magazine editor Nigel Harris and Professor David Begg.

Telegraph online, HS2 under fire over Ipsos Mori polling contract

Written by beleben

October 16, 2020 at 4:43 pm

Posted in Politics

Eat, sleep, spin, reset

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On 13 October, just weeks after the official ‘start of construction‘ of its High Speed Two railway, the government has announced that new “cost pressures” are emerging. (Was für eine Überraschung.), 'HS2 6 monthly report to parliament', 13 Oct 2020

But apparently no mention in this six-monthly report of other ‘cost pressures’, like the now-proposed 5.7 km tunnel in Bromford.

HS2 phase one, proposed Bromford tunnel extension

Written by beleben

October 14, 2020 at 11:55 am

Andy’s fake cycle network ‘launched’ in Coventry

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On 25 June, The Guardian published an article about the inadequacies of cycling provision in the West Midlands, and metro mayor Andy Street’s lacklustre performance and policies.

[What the West Midlands is getting right, and wrong, for cycling | The region has made progress in getting people on to bikes, but where’s the ambition? | Laura Laker | The Guardian | Thu 25 Jun 2020]

[…] The West Midlands is proud of its industrial heritage, but unlit, isolated towpaths are no replacement for a cycle network that safely takes people places they want to be.

Happily, another part of the region’s heritage is the modern bicycle, invented on Street’s patch by JK Starley in Coventry in 1884, kickstarting an era of bike manufacturing in the region.

Street, the former boss of John Lewis, was elected the region’s Conservative mayor in May 2017. Improvement of the region’s canal network aside, just four miles of protected on-road cycle routes have been built by Birmingham since, and those were funded via the city council rather than Street’s combined authority.

[…] In the long term, West Midlands’ 200km region-wide “route network plan” lacks the scope, the cohesive branding or urgency of Street’s colleagues’ plans in Manchester – the 1,800-mile £1.5bn Bee network; Sheffield – 620 miles of walking and cycling routes; and Leicester, which is currently adding a mile a week to its active travel network.

Street recently told attendees at an online conference: “In a region like this, even if we do well, you will only get about 5% of people cycling.” An academic analysis, however, estimates that a Dutch-style cycle network would produce at least double that in the region’s most rural areas, and up to 29% in Wolverhampton and Birmingham. Street’s own figures show 41% of trips made by car in the West Midlands are under two miles, distances easily cycled. […]

It would appear that Mr Street read the Guardian story, took note of the point about the lack of ‘cohesive branding’, and decided to brand the network ‘Starley’ after the name was mentioned in the article.

On 11 August, Mr Street launched this ‘Starley network’ at a poorly attended photo opp outside Coventry Transport Museum.

TfWM, 'New West Midlands cycling network unveiled', Tuesday 11 August 2020'

The problem, of course, is that there isn’t an actual cycle ‘network’, nor is there any sign of Mr Street having any plans to create one.

TfWM, 'Starley Cycle Network Map'

Written by beleben

August 11, 2020 at 8:58 pm

Back to the further

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On 28 November 2011 the government announced that prime minister David Cameron had given approval for a number of infrastructure projects, including electrifying the Transpennine North (TPN) railway between Manchester and Leeds, starting in 2012., 'PM approves major infrastructure works', 2011-11-28

On 23 July 2020, transport secretary Grant Shapps announced

  • “most” of TPN “will be electrified”, and “our ambition is to go further”
  • “the establishment of a new Northern Transport Acceleration Council dedicated to accelerating vital infrastructure projects and better connecting communities across the North’s towns and cities”.


Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said:

This feels like a gear change from the government in the delivery of transport improvements in the North of England and I welcome the new drive that the Transport Secretary is bringing to this.

People here deserve a modern, reliable public transport system and it is my hope that the Northern Transport Acceleration Council will bring forward the day when that is a reality. It is crucial that the council listens to the voice of the North and is accountable to people here through their elected politicians and bodies such as Transport for the North.

The additional funding for the Transpennine route upgrade is a welcome sign of intent from the government. The North has long argued for the existing scheme to be upgraded to bring the full range of passenger and freight benefits and we are glad that the government has listened to this. But it is important to be clear that upgrading the existing railway between Manchester and Leeds does not diminish the need for a new line in Northern Powerhouse Rail nor does it solve the capacity issues in central Manchester which require a separate solution.

Borat, thumbs up

Written by beleben

July 23, 2020 at 1:46 pm

Posted in Politics, Railways

The low-down on HS2 value

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According to its April 2020 phase one Final Business Case [FBC], High Speed Two offers ‘value for the taxpayer under all but the most extreme scenarios’.

But what kind of ‘value for the taxpayer’?

Forecast benefit cost of the Y network, DfT HS2 phase two economic case, July 2017, Figure 7

In July 2017, the Department for Transport claimed that the full HS2 Y network had a ‘68% chance of having a benefit cost ratio (BCR) above 2’ and a ‘92% chance of a BCR above 1.5’.

[HS2 Phase Two Economic Case | July 2017][…]

Phases 2a and 2b demonstrate high value for money, contributing to a full network BCR of 2.3 with WEIs and 1.9 excluding WEIs.

The Department’s value for money framework (2015) stated that in ‘standard cases’, a BCR of between 1.0 and 1.5 would indicate ‘Low’ value for money (VfM), a BCR between 1.5 and 2.0 would indicate ‘Medium’ VfM, and a BCR between 2.0 and 4.0 would indicate ‘High’ VfM.

DfT VfM framework, 2015, category definitions

[DfT value for money framework]

“[…] However it may be more appropriate to report a hybrid category (e.g. ‘Medium-High’) in cases where it is likely and reasonable to believe, that a proposal may fall into another category, based on analysis using ‘switching values’.”

In the April 2020 FBC the updated benefit-cost ratio for phase one (and for phase one-plus-2b taken together) was 1.2, when wider economic impacts (WEIs) are included. For the larger Y network (phase-one-plus-phase-2a-and-2b), the figure was 1.49, including WEIs.

HS2 phase one full business case, 15 April 2020, Table 2.1

On closer examination, the gulf between the ‘July 2017’ and ‘April 2020’ BCRs turns out to be even wider. One of the changes made for the FBC was that “spend up to the end of 2019 has been treated as sunk and excluded […] except for purchase costs on land and property that could be recoverable were HS2 not to go ahead“., written question on HS2 sunk costs, House of Lords, 2020-04-22

On 6 May, the government stated that had the ‘newly-declared-sunk’ costs not been excluded in the FBC,

  • the BCR for phase one would have been 0.8 without WEIs, and 1.0 with WEIs [i.e., ‘Poor’ value for money]
  • the Y network BCR would have been 1.1 without WEIs, and 1.3 with WEIs [‘Low’ value for money].

From the start, the Beleben blog has taken the view that the economic case for HS2 has been fabricated and manipulated to serve the political purpose of keeping the project going. This has been borne out by events.

BBC News, 27 Aug 2019, 'Ministers know HS2 was over budget years ago'

Manipulation of the economic case is still happening, and if anything, the HS2 project is becoming less, rather than more, transparent.

Written by beleben

May 15, 2020 at 11:31 am

Andy Street’s ‘2040 metro and rail plan’

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Andy Street at Aldridge transport museum (picture from @Andy4WM twitter)

On 4 February, West Midlands metro mayor Andy Street launched his ‘2040 plan for metro and rail in the West Midlands’ at Aldridge Transport Museum, before an audience which appeared to largely consist of museum staff and volunteers (?).

twitter, @andy4wm, 'Today I unveiled my 20 year plan to transform our metro and rail networks into a world-class comprehensive tube-style system serving our entire region. This plan is already underway with: Major expansion of the Metro in Birmingham and the Black Country.'

The event, part of Mr Street’s campaign for re-election, was not mentioned on that evening’s 6.30 pm BBC tv Midlands Today, but was briefly featured about halfway through ITV’s 6 pm Central News.

Andy4WM's metro and rail plan map 2040

The ‘£15 billion plan’ which includes new Metro (tram) lines and rail stations, and driverless pods and ‘very light’ rail, would be funded from central government, property developers, and ‘borrowing against future income from ticket sales’.

twitter, @andy4wm, 'Thank you for the encouragement and support for my 20 year metro and rail plan. We've started work on this job together and the foundations are literally being laid around the region, with the diggers in the ground. There's a long way to go but we are underway!'

An obvious difficulty with the idea of ‘borrowing against future income from ticket sales’ is that most of the additional infrastructure proposed by Mr Street would carry few passengers, generate very little income, and have to be subsidised from public funds.

There must be also be some questions about the disruption which would follow from implementing Mr Street’s scheme. If the HS2 railway is approved, as news reports suggest, there would be extensive transport disruption in central and east Birmingham over the next decade. Building Mr Street’s tram lines would in effect deepen and spread this disruption, across the wider area, for the next twenty years.



Written by beleben

February 5, 2020 at 12:55 pm

Sit here and talk about HS2

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Eighty percent of Sheffielders aren’t interested in HS2, according to Sheffield council leader Julie Dore, who has warned the project ‘will fail to improve the majority of the north’.

'HS2: Sheffield Council leader Julie Dore warns that the £106billion rail project will fail to improve majority of the north'

[HS2: Sheffield Council leader Julie Dore warns that the £106billion rail project will fail to improve majority of the north, Molly Williams, Local Democracy Reporter, The Star, 27 Jan 2020]

She said: “I sit here and talk about HS2 but you know what, 80 percent of Sheffielders aren’t interested – they are interested in buses. We’ve not got enough of them, they don’t arrive on time, sometimes they’re missing, they’re not comfortable or clean, they’re slow, unaffordable and don’t go to the right places. People want authorities and the government to address their real life issues.

“Big announcements about HS2 and massive infrastructure, more roads and railways for the north but people want to know there is a good education for their children, decent job they can look forward too, an affordable cost of living, a decent home and care and support when they need it. That’s what matters to them and I think the opportunity of devolution will help address some of those issues.”

Why it has taken her to say something as obvious as this, is not immediately clear. HS2 cannot ‘regenerate’ the north, and the proposed HS2 termini (in Manchester and Leeds) are the places in the north which are the least in need of ‘regeneration’.

twitter, @SheffieldStar, 'Coun Dore said she was 'profoundly disappointed' with recent announcements about the HS2 rail link. Story by @1MollyWilliams'

Written by beleben

January 27, 2020 at 8:06 pm

Posted in HS2, Politics

Spinning in different ways

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On 12 November 2019 the Financial Times reported that a leaked ‘early draft’ of the Oakervee review of HS2 had recommended that the UK government should proceed with the full high speed network from London to Leeds and Manchester, despite the potential for further cost increases.

Financial Times story on a leaked version of the Oakervee HS2 report, 12 Nov 2019

But on 19 January 2020, the newspaper published content apparently leaked from a later ‘draft’ of the report, in which only ‘lukewarm’ support was offered for the scheme.

Financial Times story on a leaked version of the Oakervee HS2 report, 19 Jan 2020

[Financial Times, 19 Jan 2020][…]

The review led by Doug Oakervee, a former chairman of HS2, also recommends that work on phase 2b of the project from the West Midlands to Manchester and Leeds be paused for six months for a study into whether it could comprise a mix of conventional and high speed lines instead.

“On balance”, it says that ministers should proceed with the 250mph railway, which would stretch from London’s Euston station to Birmingham in its first phase and then to Leeds and Manchester by 2040, seven years later than the original target. But although the final draft of the review recommends that the project should proceed, this is subject to “a number of qualifications,” it says.

“Further work” is needed to assess the scheme’s impacts on regional growth and it is “hard” to say what economic benefits will result from building it. HS2 would need to be accompanied by investment in local transport and “transport investment alone will not ‘rebalance’ the UK economy,” it adds.

On BBC Radio 4’s World At One (20 January 2020), Oakervee panel member Professor Tony Travers described the report as being in ‘final draft’ form. However, on the same channel’s ‘PM’ show a few hours later, another Oakervee panel member, Andrew Sentance, said he was surprised to hear it described as a ‘draft report’.

twitter, @omrgriffiths on comments made by Andrew Sentance on Radio 4 'PM'

Mr Sentance then popped up on the 7pm Channel 4 News to claim “various people in government” were ‘spinning in different ways’.

Written by beleben

January 21, 2020 at 11:44 am

Posted in HS2, Politics