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Secret State 12: DfT alleged to have opposed release of official figures because they would ‘confuse the public’

adrian goldberg2alison munro hs2Following Peter Mandelson’s FT statement, HS2 was on the agenda of Adrian Goldberg’s ‘phone-in’ on West Midlands Radio this morning. We heard from Alison Munro, HS2’s chief executive, that the real argument about the need for HS2 has shifted from speed to capacity. (‘Listen again’ for 7 days here. )

Andrew Gilligan and many others have challenged the need for extra capacity, some offering alternative strategies; Gilligan cites these grounds:

  • the Government’s own official passenger counts show that almost half the seats on the West Coast Main Line line’s peak-time trains last year were empty
  • and that peak-hour crowding on the line has actually fallen in the last three years.
  • Government lawyers say the real capacity issue was not applicable to the long-distance services but to the West Coast main line 50 miles north of London.
  • Figures from Network Rail show that short and medium-distance services out of Euston have loadings of only 76% cent in the busiest hour.

He reports that ministers fought for months against releasing the figures

Numerous freedom of information requests for such information were refused on the grounds that they were “commercially confidential,” but opponents launched a High Court judicial review against the plans and the figures were delivered – on the last working day before the case started:

“In court, counsel for the Department for Transport, Tim Mould QC, defended the failure to release the capacity figures during the consultation period, saying they would have ‘added nothing to the debate’ and ‘confused the public’.“

Gilligan adds:

“The capacity figures are not the first key pieces of information to be withheld by the Government. Earlier (in 2012), The Sunday Telegraph revealed a report, suppressed by Department for Transport officials, which undermined a major plank of HS2’s business case”.

And in May this year another Gilligan article reported accusations that the transport minister and his top civil servant, who prepared draft “environmental statements” for HS2, misled Parliament and campaign groups.


Ministries for disinformation!