Counting the cost of HS2

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High speed rail bosses have been spending hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money on public events to promote the controversial HS2 scheme.

A series of information events on the section of the HS2 route which would pass through the Wakefield district cost almost £300,000.

Crofton Against HS2 campaigners.

Crofton Against HS2 campaigners.

HS2 Ltd, the government-owned company behind the project, held 29 events - each at a cost averaging around £10,000 - on Phase Two B, which would run from Crewe to Manchester and the West Midlands to Leeds.

Figures released under freedom of information rules show the amounts spent on events at locations including the Cedar Court Hotel in Wakefield, Hatfeild Hall near Stanley and Burntwood Court Hotel near Hemsworth.

Altofts anti-HS2 campaigner Paul Dainton, who attended the Hatfeild Hall event, said: “The amount of money being spent on the project is absolutely appalling.

“That £300,000 was not HS2’s money to spend. It’s the tip of the iceberg. We’ve had to run our total campaign on about £500.

Crofton residents inspect plans for HS2 at an open event held at Cedar Court, Wakefield.

Crofton residents inspect plans for HS2 at an open event held at Cedar Court, Wakefield.

“And it wasn’t a consultation. They refused to listen to our complaints. It was a brainwashing exercise.”

Mr Dainton also criticised the choice of venue by HS2 bosses.

He said: “Hatfeild Hall, for somebody on public transport, was journey of two buses and nearly a half-mile walk.”

The figures show cash was spent on plasma screens, computer equipment, security, catering, parking and buses to take people to and from the events. More than £21,000 of the total went to Crown Business Communications, hired to provide security and event management services.

HS2 Ltd said the company, which is registered in Soho Square, London, was brought in after a competitive tendering process.

Opponents to the £56bn HS2 scheme say it will carve up the district’s towns and village, destroy wildlife habitats and drive down property prices, while doing little to benefit the economy.

Wakefield Council is officially opposed to HS2, which would provide shorter journey times between Leeds, Birmingham, Manchester and London.

The 29 public events were organised after the government announced its preferred route for Phase Two B of the scheme.

Information was provided on changes to the route and how people living near to the new rail line would be compensated.

Feedback was passed to the Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling to help make a decision on the proposed route.

An HS2 Ltd spokeswoman said: “Just under 20,000 people attended HS2’s programme of community information events in January and February 2017.

“The events were an important part of the consultation process as they supported residents, land and business owners in making an informed response to the two public consultations before the March 9 deadline.

“Local intelligence is crucial to ensuring we design a first class railway and we are committed to providing opportunities for communities to get on board and have their say.

“We thank everyone who attended the events and took part in the consultation process for their valuable contributions.

“The Secretary of State will review all the information presented to him before announcing a decision on the route later this year.”

MORE than 400 companies have been awarded contracts with the HS2 rail network since 2010.

A five-page document listing all the firms hired to provide services for the scheme has been released in response to a parliamentary question.

The list, published by the Department for Transport, includes around 17 public relations agencies paid using public money.

The companies listed include Westbourne Communications, which provides “public relations, public affairs, political intelligence and issues management”.

Another of the PR agencies, Weber Shandwick, describes itself as “one of the world’s leading public relations firms”.

Also among firms hired by HS2 were the “big four” accountancy companies KPMG, Deloitte, Ernst and Young and Pricewaterhouse Coopers, along with the multi-national outsourcing specialist Capita.