The Public Accounts committee are ‘increasingly alarmed’ by slow progress and lack of clarity surrounding the final cost of the government’s flagship high speed rail network.
This week MPs were warned that the plans which had already risen from £55.7bn in 2015 to £100bn could face spiralling further due to covid cost pressures and slow progress at the Euston terminal.
The warning has not helped convince those already sceptical of the promised benefits of the viability of the plans. Dame Meg Hillier MP said: “HS2 is already one of the single most expensive taxpayer-funded programmes in the UK but there actually no clear end in sight in terms of the final cost, or even the final route. The project was plagued by lack of planning and transparency from the start and there are many difficulties ahead.”
The first phase of construction started August 2020, however the Public Accounts committee warned that a substantial amount of the first phase still needed to be procured. Plans for the terminal at Euston also remain unclear, leaving some to question the £2.6bn allocated for the work there. The government has agreed that the first phase could open in West London instead to confirm a start date for services between 2029 and 2033. However, some believe this would curtail the railway’s benefits unless Euston was connected soon.
The body charged with delivering the project, HS2 Ltd, maintain that 20% of the work on the first phase has been completed using only £0.4bn contingency and that the first phase budget is ‘realistic’. A spokesperson from HS2 said; “Although there have been challenges – particularly relating to the pandemic – the project remains on budget. HS2 is now supporting 20,000 jobs and providing work for thousands of UK businesses, helping the economy to bounce back after Covid.”
However, the Public Accounts committee still have many unanswered questions on the benefits as well as the costs of the project, commenting that that neither the Department of Transport or HS2 had managed to tell them how they would ensure delivery of the range of benefits they had promised to people, communities and businesses along the route.