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On 21st August the Transport Minister, Grant Shapps MP announced the composition of the Oakervee Hs2 review panel. The deputy chair will be Lord Berkeley whilst the panel will consist of Michele Dix, Stephen Glaister, Patrick Harley, Sir Peter Hendy, Andrew Sentance, Andy Street, John Cridland and Tony Travers.

The members are both pro and anti Hs2, politicians, rail leaders and academics who’ll examine all the claims and counter claims made. It’s a well-balanced panel as academia will be tempered by real world experience and those who understand the issues and need to deliver results on the ground.

Progress will have to be rapid as their report is expected in the Autumn. I expect to see off some of the wilder claims and ‘alternatives’ and focus on why we’re building Hs2 in the first place. I also expect the claims that HS2 can be terminated at Old Oak Common seen off once and for all. I believe that making Lord Berkeley, a man who’s been a constant critic of HS2 whilst proposing a number of impractical ‘alternatives’ himself as Deputy Chair to be a clever move as he’s going to have to sign up to the report’s conclusions.

Let’s have a look at the panel in greater detail.

Doug Oakervee

Oakervee has decades of experience in delivering major civil engineering projects. A former President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, he was the Executive Chairman at Crossrail from  Dec 2005 to May 2009 and non-Exec Chairman of Hs2 Ltd from March 2012 until December 2013.

Michèle Dix

A Chartered Civil Engineer and former board member of construction company Halcrow, Michele joined Transport for London in 2000 where she had responsibility for the congestion charge. In 2007 she became Managing Director of Planning. She was responsible for leading the planning strategy on the future transport needs of London. In February 2015 Michèle left Planning to become the Managing Director of Crossrail 2 and is now responsible for developing Crossrail 2 and gaining funding and powers for it. Her depth of understanding of the impact of Hs2 in London and its transport network will be extremely valuable.

Professor Stephen Glaister

Glaister is Professor of Transport and Infrastructure in the Centre for Transport Studies at Imperial College London. He’s a long-standing advisor to government on transport issues and economics and contributed to the Eddingtom report. He’s a ‘soft’ critic of HS2 who tends to see both sides of an argument without reaching any firm conclusion. He was interviewed by Halligan for his ‘Dispatches’ hatchet job on Hs2. Halligan asked him “is it (Hs2) good value”? Glaister replied “nobody knows”! I expect Glaister will offer the same non-committal advice to this committee.

Councillor Patrick Harley

Harley is a Conservative Cabinet Member at Dudley MBC and former Council Leader as well as a member of the West Midlands Combined Authority. He’s been a backer of transport initiatives in the West Midlands, including Hs2, which is very important to the area. Harley’s a strong supporter of Midland Metro and has highlighted links it will provide to HS2

Sir Peter Hendy CBE

Hendy needs little introduction. Currently the very active Chair of Network Rail he’s a former bus man, having started his career in the public transport industry in 1975. He was appointed to the position of Managing Director of Surface Transport for Transport for London in 2001. In 2006 he was appointed Commissioner of Transport for London before moving to Network Rail in 2015. Peter has enormous experience of running the sharp end of public transport and understands the need for a strategic vision for both London and the UK.

Andrew Sentence

Sentence is a business economist. Formerly Senior Economic Advisor to PWC from 2011 to 2018, previously he was an external member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee from 2006 -2011. He’s also a former head of economic policy and director of economic affairs at the CBI who has an interest in the low carbon economy. Amongst other things he’s a former member of the Commission for Integrated Transport (2006–10). I suspect he’ll bring a balanced look at the economics and Hs2’s potential to tackle carbon emissions.

Andy Street

Andy’s a former MD of John Lewis who’s currently the Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands and a strong pro Hs2 voice in the Tory party. He’s an unabashed ambassador for the West Midlands and the positive economic benefits better transport links like HS2 bring to the area.

John Cridland

John’s a former Director of the CBI (an organisation that supports HS2). He’s currently Chair of Transport for the North (TfN) and well placed to know the real issues. TfN have made it clear that HS2 phase 2 is essential to delivering Northern Powerhouse Rail.

Professor Tony Travers

Tony’s another academic. He’s currently Visiting Professor in LSE Department of Government and Director of of the London School of Economics who’s advised the Government on a number of occasions. A critic of HS2 but someone who focusses on costs of the project rather than the practicalities of it. Hardly surprising, as that’s the beauty of academia, you can ‘umm and ahh’ safe in the knowledge that it’s not your neck on the line.

The review’s remit

Importantly, each member will focus on a specific area, feeding into and being consulted on the report’s conclusions, without having a right of veto. I expect the academics to do what academics do – and the politicians and business leaders to draw up the conclusion. After all, it’s the elected politicians whose necks will be on the line, and there’s plenty of experienced people on the panel to pose the question, “if not Hs2, what’s your plan B, and you’d better come up with it PDQ!”

I would be surprised if the review delivers a major policy change on HS2. The phase 1 project is too far down the line to be sent back to the drawing board as that would result in chaos on the railways at huge additional cost. On the (potential) eve of Brexit it would also deliver entirely the wrong political message. Don’t expect Hs2 to be cut back to Old Oak Common either, the technical problems with such an idea are huge.

What could be possible is for elements of phase 2 to be changed. Imagine if some of the funding for the sections around Leeds and Manchester was diverted to Transport for the North to deliver (at an earlier date) the elements of Hs2 that would be integral to Northern Powerhouse Rail? This budget reallocation wouldn’t stop Hs2, but it would address some of the cost issues and politically, it would show a real commitment to the North that the Prime Minister has already stated. Then, when Hs2 phase 2 is built it can simply link up with existing NPR infrastructure. Of course, all this is entirely speculative. We’ll have to wait until the autumn to see what the review decides.