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Express & Star comment: Probe into HS2 project comes far too late

By Star Comment | Opinions | Published:

So Boris Johnson has stayed true to his word and launched an independent review into HS2 within weeks of entering Number 10.

What does the future hold for the HS2 project?

For opponents of the controversial line – and there are many – the move will undoubtedly be seen as its “last rites”.

It is not hard to see the reasons behind such confidence.

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The long-quoted budget of £56 billion appears to be outdated, with the Prime Minister himself suggesting that the final cost will be almost double that amount.

If the inquiry reveals the overspend is anywhere close to that figure, then the Government will have great difficulty persuading the public that HS2 represents value for money.

For supporters of HS2 here in the West Midlands, the line is considered a crucial link that will see the region become a focal point for business.

It is easy to get the impression that privately, some of them would hold the view that the line simply must be built, regardless of the cost.

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The panel which has been assembled to effectively decide the line’s future certainly features individuals from both sides of the argument.

The deputy chairman is Labour peer Lord Berkeley, an opponent of HS2 who has repeatedly challenged Government cost figures and warned ministers over spiralling budgets.

Meanwhile West Midlands Tory Mayor Andy Street – a cheerleader for HS2 – also has a seat at the table.

He will be keen to ensure that the long term business case for the line does not get lost among short term financial concerns.

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This review should be welcomed by one and all, particularly if it results in updated cost plans for a scheme that has already removed more than £5 million from the public purse.

But two key questions remain.

Firstly, why on Earth wasn’t this done three years ago when Theresa May became Prime Minister?

There were serious concerns over the HS2 budget then which were simply not addressed.

Secondly, what action will be taken if the inquiry concludes that the public has been misled over the project’s finances?

If HS2 is scrapped, it will have represented a scandalous waste of time and money that will make the Millennium Dome look like a decent investment.

And for that, heads must roll.

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