The notice to proceed for HS2 has again been delayed, I believe until December. In the meantime, enabling works continue to blight large parts of the county, and this error-ridden project is costing our local authorities more and more. The situation is critical, with the area of outstanding natural beauty suffering irreparable environmental damage from preparatory works, rather than the “legacy” the Minister just referred to, and the costs spiralling out of control, when this project could well be cancelled. Indeed, millions are being spent on consultants to try to reduce the costs, which will in all likelihood result in failure to deliver on environmental protections and promises.
Already hedgerows have been netted or removed, machinery has been brought in to remove mature oak trees, country road verges have been destroyed by HGVs, massive ugly earthworks have appeared at our prime tourist sites, construction worker camps are surrounded by prison-like barriers, and there is the horror of the depopulated areas where homeowners were forced to sell to HS2.
It is almost impossible to hold this monster to account. Written questions are answered so poorly that I have to submit freedom of information requests to elicit basic information. I want some straight answers today. Why is only a junior Minister with other responsibilities in charge of the largest infrastructure project in Europe, which costs more than Brexit? Surely it should have its own Minister, if not its own Department. In her written answer today and in her statement just now, the Minister gives the impression that the entire decision on the go-ahead of this project comes from her. Will she be the sole Minister responsible for issuing the notice to proceed?
Why has the cost of HS2 not been updated since 2015, and what are the actual costs at today’s prices? What is the latest evaluation of the cost-benefit analysis, and why has that not been done already? When will the Treasury review be completed, and will a full report be published? Is the delivery of HS2 still being flagged with an amber-red warning, and how regularly is Cabinet updated on this project? Has HS2 applied for and received all the environmental licences and permissions required to carry out this environmental vandalism in Buckinghamshire?
What level of control and monitoring does the Secretary of State exercise over the awarding of contracts and the finances, and if he does have a level of control, why has £1.7 million that was paid out in unauthorised redundancy payments not been recovered or any director held to account? What would it cost to cancel the project now? Why, with so many doubts and unanswered questions, will the Government not agree to a perfectly reasonable request from Bucks County Council to have a six-month pause to do a total re-evaluation of this project, which has already blown its timetable and its budget before it even has the go-ahead?