Oppnents of HS2 have reacted angrily to transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin’s decision to invoke a secrecy notice they say has not been used since the Iraq War to carry on refusing to release a major report into the project’s viability.
McLoughlin has used the Section 53 notice to overturn a ruling by the Information Commissioner that required the Cabinet Office to publish the Project Assessment Report (PAR) into HS2 carried out by the Major Projects Authority.
He claimed his decision to invoke the notice “was not taken lightly”, but insisted that this was an “exceptional case” and that “the public interest favours nondisclosure”.
The MPA’s reports are specifically designed to look into major projects like HS2, and McLoughlin conceded that “the public interest in ensuring that projects of this scale, importance and cost are properly controlled and overseen is very high indeed”.
But he also referred back to the reasons he had given to the Information Commissioner for non-disclosure in June last year. These included a claim that PARs need to give all interviewees “express assurances both that their comments will not be attributed, and that the report itself will have only a limited distribution among those responsible for the project.”
He said: “We cannot work out how a PAR is not in the public interest. The proposed £50bn project will blight 500,000 homes and will generate massive environmental damage. Plus it will likely destabilise the economic balance between the regions and London, and has massive job loss and job creation implications. Independent research says the majority of the population does not want HS2, so why shouldn’t the public know what the MPA has to say on its viability?”
He added that an Imperial College Report commissioned by HS2 had suggested that the economic benefits to each of HS2’s proposed destinations would be less than £10m a year. “If the MPA report was supportive, then it would have been published like a shot,” he said.