Today has seen a flurry of activity from supporters and opponents of HS2 alike, trying to find out what Chris Grayling thinks of HS2. But there don't seem to be any real clues. Like Theresa May, he seems never to have uttered a dickie bird about it, apart from when all the cabinet were wheeled out to tour the route in January 2013 when Phase 2 was announced.
Whilst he voted for the project at 3rd reading, at 2nd reading he abstained without any noticeable reason, which was highly unusual for a cabinet minister whose constituency is not on the proposed route.
His appointment comes on the back of the news that to recover a £9bn over-run on the costs, HS2 Ltd have magically -and not at all suspiciously!- found exactly £9bn worth of potential savings to cancel it out. Though Chief Exec Simon Kirby has admitted they have only identified how they could save the money, and that only £2bn of the savings are confirmed, which if we're being totally honest should really put the official cost not at £56bn, but at £63bn. That would also sink the benefit cost ratio well below 1.5, the level at which new Chancellor Philip Hammond said he would put it under "very close scrutiny" back when he was Transport Sec.
Grayling may also want to see if Patrick McLoughlin has left any clues behind as to why HS2 Ltd have been allowed to start tendering, despite failing the review they were meant to have to have passed before starting that process. There's also the question of seeing if the 'urgent action' required by five years worth of 'amber-red' ratings for HS2 has ever happened.
Possibly the first person to have a word in Graylings ear will be Andrea Leadsom. The new Environment Sec will not just want to point out the terrible environmental credentials of HS2, but her long-standing view that the economic case for the project is a work of fiction. Leadsom of course said that if she had become leader, she would have reviewed the project, which could be the 'punt it into the long grass' option. This could easily be justified as a post-Brexit HS2 could cost billions less, if EU specifications on things like needing to have two tunnels where one would do were got rid of. By the time Article 50 negotiations had been completed, an honest assessment of alternatives, which never happened before it was decided to go ahead with HS2, might well have come up with a better proposition.
As Theresa May has a record of cancelling badly thought out projects as soon as she takes office, with ID Cards and an immigration computer system being cancelled as soon as she became Home Secretary, we can but hope that Grayling has been put in place to usher HS2 into the realms of history.
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