Speaking on Tuesday at the Annual General meeting of the Polesworth Anti HS2 Group at the Birchmoor Club, Mike O’Brien condemned the unprecedented decision of the Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin to prevent the publication of a the Major Projects Reports on HS2.
The Information Commissioner had ordered the government to release of the 2011 Report following an FOI application. But the last week Transport Secretary refused publication and he will now be taken to the High Court by the Information Commissioner.
Mike, who is strongly opposed to HS2, said,
“These reports are important because they can seriously damage the case for HS2. There are an army of consultants working on HS2 and it is expected that the Major Projects Reports will show poor management at HS2 Ltd, poor work on controlling costs and lack of a proper assessment of the financial risk. I recently met a national expert on measuring the financial risks on major projects who told me the costs projections on HS2 were unreliable guesswork. Ministers need to release these reports because people need to know what HS2 will cost.
“North Warwickshire is the worst hit area by HS2. We need to see these reports. This secrecy about the bad management of HS2 is unacceptable. People need to know the truth. I condemn the decision of the Transport Secretary.”
This is the first time the veto has ever been used in relation to a ruling made by the Information Commissioner based on environmental grounds. It came the day after Cabinet Office Minister, Francis Maude, a former North Warwickshire MP, claimed in Parliament that the Government record on releasing information under freedom of information requests was “good”.
It has now been revealed that Mr McLoughlin and Mr Maude wrote to the Prime Minister that saying:
“We consider that the importance the Government attaches to the successful implementation of the HS2 project . . . justifies the use of the veto in this case as exceptional.”
The main document blocked from public scrutiny was a November 2011 report from the Major Projects Authority, which rated HS2 as amber-red, which is defined as:“Successful delivery of the project is in doubt, with major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas. Urgent action is needed to ensure these are addressed, and whether resolution is feasible”.
There have since been a further four Major Project reports on HS2. When the Major Projects Authority was set up, it was promised that the reports would be made public two years after production, hence the decision on the 2011 report.
The Information Commissioner ruled in June 2013 that the document should be released in the public interest and under the Environmental Information Regulations. On receipyt of the request from McLoughlin and Maude, the Prime Minister agreed to veto publication. This means that MPs voting on the HS2 Hybrid Bill do not know the details of the reports.
Dr Paul Thornton, from Staffordshire, who brought the original freedom of information request, said,
“This is a delaying tactic on the part of Government as they know decision is likely to go to Judicial Review. This should not be necessary as Parliament should be scrutinising this arbitrary decision and ensuring that it is overturned, as creates an alarming precedent.”
Stop HS2 Campaign Manager Joe Rukin told the Polesworth meeting that:
“There will be a Judicial review of the governments decision. They wouldn’t block publication if the report want damaging. It is absolutely disgraceful that the Government doesn’t want MPs, who should be fully informed before voting on the colossal expenditure HS2 entails, to actually have all the information about the project. This just proves that there has been, and continues to be an agenda from Government to deceive MPs and the public with spin and dismiss any independent information showing just how bad the HS2 project is.
“Ministers made this exceptionally clear when they said publication of these reports would cause ‘political and presentational difficulties’ and could seriously damage the project. That was an admission that knowing the truth about HS2 would finish it off. This is no way to run a railway, or indeed a country.”