The chair of a key Commons committee has written to ministers demanding clear answers on the economic case for airport expansion and describing HS2 as having the weakest economic case of the projects in the Government’s infrastructure programme.
Andrew Tyrie MP, chair of the Treasury Select Committee, has published his letter to transport secretary Chris Grayling in an apparent sign of his frustration at the failure of the Department for Transport (DfT) to provide information that his committee has repeatedly requested.
Jets at Heathrow, one candidate for expansion
In his letter, Mr Tyrie referred to a conversation with Mr Grayling last month in which they had ‘discussed the need for clear answers on the economic case for Heathrow and Gatwick’ and he had ‘explained the gaps in the information provided to support the economic case in the Davies [Airports Commission] review’.
He said that neither the DfT nor the Treasury had ‘felt able (for over 10 months) to supply this information’ and said: ‘For the fifth time, I am attaching these questions.’
Mr Tyrie added: ‘Failure to answer them will lead people either to conclude that this work has not been done in which case it would be unacceptable for a decision to be made without the evidence to support it - or that it has been done, and gives answers that do not necessarily support the conclusions of the Davies report.’
‘I have written in similar terms to the Chancellor’, he said.
A Government spokesperson said: 'The case for aviation expansion is clear – but it’s vitally important we get the decision right so that it will benefit generations to come. The Government is considering the Commission’s evidence before reaching a view on its preferred scheme.'
Mr Tyrie also referred to a speech given by Mr Grayling in July in which he had justified HS2's economic case on the basis of both capacity and speed. But he said the Treasury Committee had found in 2013 that ‘the numbers do not support such an argument’.
He added: ‘HS2 has the weakest economic case of all the projects within the infrastructure programme, yet it is being pushed through with the most enthusiasm.’
Mr Tyrie also told the transport secretary that ‘the question of whether it is possible to improve capacity at lower speed and, consequently, at a lower cost, has not been comprehensively examined’.
He concluded: ‘The case for providing sufficient detail to enable other ways of improving rail capacity – including at lower speed – to be fully assessed, remains very strong.
Penny Gaines, chair of Stop HS2, said: ‘As Andrew Tyrie points out, the Department for Transport say that a conventional speed railway would cost 9% less than HS2. With HS2 currently expected to cost £56 billion, that’s around £5 billion.
‘But in additional to being substantially cheaper, a conventional speed railway could have stations in more places, bringing benefits to far more people. It would also be able to curve round sensitive wildlife sites, whereas to get the speed wanted by ministers, HS2 has to blast through them.’
A DfT spokesperson said: 'We are clear HS2 will increase capacity and reliability on our main north-south routes, and will be delivered on time and on budget.'