Posted 18th May 2020 | 5 Comments

HS2 ‘off course’ report welcomed by critics

AN updated HS2 report from the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts which is seriously critical of the project has been welcomed by critics.

The review by the committee of MPs from all sides of the House says the programme has ‘gone badly off-course and is now estimated to cost up to £88 billion, significantly more than the original budget of £55.7 billion’.

The figures are at 2015 prices, and the Committee says it is ‘unconvinced that there will not be further cost increases, such as those we have seen in Crossrail and many other programmes, especially given that the route and forecast cost of the northern sections of the proposed railway is still very uncertain and will remain so for years to come’.

It also notes that ‘public confidence in the programme has been undermined’.

Lord Tony Berkeley, who produced his own Dissenting Report earlier this year after he had been forced to stand down from the Oakerview HS2 Review team, claimed there was evidence of a cover-up over the true costs.

‘I am pleased that Public Accounts Committee has taken steps to investigate HS2, but it is clearly not enough.

‘Unfortunately, the report has failed to take into account the even earlier warnings that I, and others, gave the Government several years previously about the cost increases, the many senior whistle blowers who were silenced, and the failures of successive ministers to properly inform Parliament,’ he said.

He continued: ‘For example, on 16 May 2016, the then [transport secretary], Patrick McLaughlin, wrote to the then Chancellor George Osborne, stating that the Government could not keep to the HS2 budget, but suggested they obfuscate and keep this confidential.

‘HS2 Ltd. and those working on it at the DfT have had no regard for proper process or Parliament. As recently as last month, why did the DfT give the go ahead to begin building HS2 on 15 April when it must have known about the ongoing PAC review? It is very unlikely that Parliament would have given approval had it been provided with the necessary cost information in a timely manner.

‘The failure of the Accounting Officer to provide accurate information to Parliament is potentially a breach of the Civil Service Code and of parliamentary Privilege. Since there is even more detailed and earlier evidence than the PAC suggests, this makes these failures even more serious’.

Meg Hillier, the MP who chairs the Committee, said: ‘The Committee is concerned about how open the Department and HS2 Ltd executives have been in their account of this project. It is massively over budget and delayed before work has even begun. There is no excuse for hiding the nature and extent of the problems the project was facing from Parliament and the taxpayer. The Department and HS2 appear to have been blindsided by contact with reality – when Phase One started moving through Parliament, the predicted costs of necessary commitments to the communities affected exploded from £245 million to £1.2 billion. 

‘The Government unfortunately has a wealth of mistakes on major transport infrastructure to learn from, but it does not give confidence that it is finally going to take those lessons when this is its approach. In the six-monthly reports the Department has now agreed to give us, we want to see an honest, open account, and evidence of learning from past mistakes being applied.’

The Department for Transport said transport secretary Grant Shapps had been ‘clear that this project must go forward with a new approach to parliamentary reporting, with clear transparency, strengthened accountability to ministers, and tight control of costs.

‘We have comprehensively reset the HS2 programme, introducing a revised budget and funding regime, with significant reforms to ensure the project is delivered in a more disciplined and transparent manner.’

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • Ben Oldfield, Kilkenny

    The original cost was at 2015 prices, at £55.7 billion. If you take inflation into account at 3% then the cost today would be £66.5 billion. The government have also insisted that the contractors to build it take all the risk which would increase the construction cost by 30% which would take the cost to £86.5 billion. This does not take into account the extra tunnelling for ninbies and protecting ancient woodland. The new cost is easily accounted for.

  • david c smith, Bletchley

    50 or so years ago, the Japanese Shinkansen and French LGV were built, on routes where the needs for both very high speed and for capacity relief coincided.

    This coincidence doesn't automatically apply to all routes, though. Perhaps in Britain , it ought to have been considered to look at these two needs separately in the first place? Does 240mph make much sense on a service linking two cities just over 100 miles apart, for example, whilst cities to the north of Leeds and Manchester are largely ignored?

  • jak jay, surrey

    The biggest waste of taxpayers money...ever! and all for to keep the useless private contractors nose in the big pig trough known as the privatised railway.
    This vanity project if ever built will end in Birmingham and stay there for years
    What IS needed is a high speed line across the Pennines linking Liverpool/Manchester to the likes of Leeds,Sheffield,Newcastle and Hull
    money put to much better use.

  • Melvyn, Canvey Island , Essex

    Now you donít expect a positive report on HS2 from a committee with members like Dame Cheryl Gillan whoís opposed the project from the beginning and still fighting using same failed arguments from a decade ago .

    While Lord Berkley another opponent didnít even stay around for final Oakervee Report potting to publish a report giving £100 billion cost without details just for Anti HS2 brigade to quote . What hasnít been published is how he suggested 4 tracking of Chiltern Railway instead of HS2 something that would destroy far more trees than HS2 as well as properties beside the route !

    Only stage 1 of HS2 has Parliamentary authority so thatís the only cost HS2 currently has white legislation for phase 2a extension to Crewe is currently in Parliament and will thus be signed off with current price .

    Likewise phase 2b legislation has still to be introduced linked to Northern Powerhouse and thus cost will be voted on when legislation is before Parliament.

    Strange how nobody complaining about forests of green land Lower Thames Crossing or recently complet Ed A14 Road have swallowed up !

  • Tony Pearce, Reading

    In today's World do you think that the £Billions being spent on HS2 would be better spent on providing fast Broadband for everyone - however remote their premises ? I think most people would vote for the latter one. Another question is - 'Are there any votes to be had by continuing with HS2 to the North?' That may prove a more pertinent question, - especially in a period of great unemployment, - and more difficult to answer.