HS2 Promising new developments?

The concept of a mined tunnel past Wendover has been promoted for a very long time. The management of HS2 Ltd has resisted all sensible dialogue, and in late April the Under Secretary of State at the DfT formally declined attempts by our MP for further consideration. However, Wendover Parish Council were still willing to take the unanimous and brave decision to vote £19,000 to provide further evidence, in a last effort to achieve a mined tunnel. Some promising new developments can now be reported, resulting from that evidence.

In their letter refusing a mined tunnel, the DfT introduced the new concept of needing a long lead time Development Consent Order (DCO), if a mined tunnel were to be adopted. Advice was sought on DCOs, and how they worked. The first work was to seek legal opinion on this matter. Under the HS2 Act, it turns out that HS2 Ltd can indeed choose whatever power it deems suitable. They chose the power that took the longest time, because it suited their argument. After detailed analysis, there is confidence in the arguments against this point. Further, it is in reality no longer such an important issue.

Another tranche of work was to commission the UK’s leading rail specialist quantity surveyor (Michael Byng) to advise on the true cost of HS2 Ltd proposals, in comparison with the mined tunnel. This is the crux of the argument, and there is great concern about the accuracy of HS2 Ltd’s cost estimates. It turns out that this concern was well founded. Michael Byng has just released his summary report, and his detailed report is expected to be released soon.

HS2 Ltd have consistently estimated that a mined tunnel at Wendover would cost £265million more than their elevated route proposal. After exhaustive analysis, Mr Byng’s report refutes that, stating that the mined tunnel would actually save £321 million, compared to HS2 proposals. Further, over constructions times, Mr Byng believes that a mined tunnel would take at most 1.5 years to construct, but that the HS2 Ltd scheme would take 5 years! Finally, Mr Byng has firmly joined with the Mined Tunnel Engineers (OTB) in rejecting naïve technical commentary from HS2 Ltd. Mr Byng is well known to the DfT, and his work is held in high regard. He has also undertaken work for Camden, Solihull and others, as well as estimating the cost of the whole project in a mutually consistent manner. Authority has been given for Mr Byng to talk to DfT Officials, and it is understood that Wendover now has their full attention for a change.

The extra evidence that our MP wished to see is now in his hands. Lord Berkeley in the Lords has been very quick to see the possibilities that might now unfold. The next tranches of work will involve using lobbying, both of politicians and the nominated contractor, in an attempt to further influence opinion. There was already quite a lot of concern in Westminster about the truth over HS2 costs, and Mr Byng’s Report will accelerate that concern.

Bob Lewis