Plans for the HS2 high-speed rail line linking Birmingham and London have come under fire in a heated House of Lords debate.
Peers clashed over the project, which has become integral into Birmingham’s regneration plans, with one calling for an independent review.
However, Labour’s Lord Adonis, who as transport secretary introduced the project, and Liberal Democrat Baroness Kramer, a former transport minister, both defended the line.
Businessman Lord Hollick, a Labour peer and chairman of the House’s Economic Affairs Committee, told the Lords: “Much of the evidence presented to justify HS2 is either defective or unconvincing or out of date.
“The process of oversight falls short of what is required for a major infrastructure project relying on substantial taxpayer money.”
He added: “We have a £56.6 billion project requiring £36 billion of public subsidy on which no return is expected that has failed to be independently and objectively assessed.”
Labour former minister Baroness Blackstone said the arguments for HS2 were neither “clear or robust”.
“Of course there is a case for it, but much more clarity is needed,” she said.
However, Lord Adonis responded: “Hundreds of thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of homes and thousands of companies could be generated by the four HS2 stations and the areas around but only with strong leaderships and more unified and powerful planning and delivery agencies.”
HS2 and the regeneration of Birmingham city centre are now indelibly linked with the Curzon Street HS2 Masterplan, a key part of plans to open the city out into Digbeth, launched last year.
It is also vital to addressing the city’s skills shortage, with work on the HS2 College imminent.
Baroness Kramer, warned that improving existing lines would lead to a decade of severe disruption.
“The system we use for benefit cost ratios significantly understates major long-term project benefits,” she said.
“This is a scheme that should have been built 15 years ago. I understand there is genuine opposition to it. It goes through beautiful countryside and many people are appalled at dealing with that particular shock and I understand it.
“But we are at the point where we simply cannot delay any longer.”
Labour former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott said building on the line should begin in the north.
“We can get the better advantages by starting this whole project in the north,” he said.
“It will get more jobs, more investment, more growth in the economy.”
Labour peer Lord Mitchell, an entrepreneur and former business adviser to Ed Miliband, repeated his view that HS2 was unnecessary because of hologram technology.
He told peers: “I’m a big advocate of holograms. I actually believe that with fast-speed broadband we would be able to see people actually materialise in front of us on devices yet to be invented.
“It’s not science fiction, it will happen and when it does who would seriously want to get up early, get to a station get on any train fast or slow, struggle for buses, taxis and tube trains at the other end and repeat the exercise to get home late at night?
“Who would do it when the option is to have the same meeting at home or in one’s own office?”
Tory Lord Wolfson of Aspley Guise, the chief executive of Next, reiterated his opposition to the scheme.
“My worry listening to this debate is that the proponents of HS2 have made that terrible business mistake of falling in love with their investment,” he said.
For Labour, Lord Rosser said his party supported the project, but the Government needed to provide “convincing answers” to critics.
“There is a certainly some opposition to HS2, but there is also support for the project related to capacity, connectivity and regeneration primarily,” he said.
Transport minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said the UK had tried to “patch and mend” its rail network.
He said: “HS2 is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put the years of under-investment and neglect behind us.
“HS2 will bind Britain together – it will provide the space we need to grow. Without HS2 we would end up spending more money.”