High speed rail for North East ‘unachievable’ – official

High-speed rail for the North East appears ‘unachievable’ according to a government report.

The news will infuriate local politicians, in whose eyes linking the region to the national high-speed rail network has been perhaps the most important test of the government’s commitment to levelling up the region.

Another ‘unachievable’ project, aimed to benefit a very different client group, is the National Tutoring Scheme, intended to enable disadvantaged young people catch up after Covid.   

News that high-speed rail for the North East probably cannot be achieved confirms the warning given on this website on July 21 that there was fresh uncertainty over the eastern leg of the scheme (HS2b) from Birmingham to Leeds, allowing high-speed trains to continue northwards on existing track to York, Darlington, Durham and Newcastle.

Plans are already in hand for the £100m redevelopment of Darlington station, partly to accommodate high-speed trains, as reported in the Northern Echo on May 11.

Cancellation or delay to HS2b would also have an adverse effect on the Northern Powerhouse Rail project to upgrade the Trans-Pennine route between Leeds and Manchester.

NATIONAL TUTORING SCHEME

The current status of HS2b is given in the latest annual report of the government’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA), which rates 184 major projects with an estimated total cost of £542bn. All projects are colour-coded according to their delivery confidence assessment (DCA).

Only seven projects, of which HS2b is one, are coded red, indicating the lowest level of confidence.

According to the report, a coding of red means: ‘Successful delivery of the project appears to be unachievable. There are major issues with project definition, schedule, budget, quality and/or benefits delivery, which at this stage do not appear to be manageable or resolvable. The project may need re-scoping and/or its overall viability re-assessed.‘

It is not just local politicians, but ministers, who see infrastructure projects like HS2 as central to their plans for levelling up. The IPA report, which has a foreword by Cabinet Office minister Lord Agnew and Treasury minister Jesse Norman, states:

‘A key milestone this year was the publication of the UK’s first National Infrastructure Strategy (NIS) in November 2020, which set out the government’s plans to transform the UK’s infrastructure networks, based around three central objectives: economic recovery; levelling up and strengthening the Union; and meeting the UK’s net zero emissions target by 2050.’

The National Tutoring Scheme, which was launched in October 2020 and is a key part of the government’s Covid catch-up response for schools, is also coded red. The overarching vision of the National Tutoring Programme is to improve academic outcomes of the most disadvantaged young people, according to the IPA report.

The only faint hope for HS2b and the National Tutoring Programme appears to be a statement in the IPA report that: ‘By taking the right steps following reviews and managing delivery challenges effectively, DCAs are often improved over time.’