'No clear end to HS2 cost and delays' say MPs

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Euston Station worksImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
MPs are concerned that delays at Euston Station could lead to more costs

There is "no clear end in sight" to HS2 costs and delays, MPs on the Public Accounts Committee have said.

The committee is "increasingly alarmed" about key parts of the project, including a lack of progress at Euston Station.

Without a government decision on the station, the project "will literally run out of time", the committee fears.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said it was making significant progress delivering HS2.

Euston Station is an important part of the first phase of the rail project, both as a London terminus and as a link to other infrastructure such as the London Underground.

But the DfT "is yet to make key decisions on the design and approach to construction there" despite having the necessary planning consents.

This could "lead to yet more costs, delays and uncertainty over the promised benefits of the programme", the committee said.

Dame Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: "HS2 is already one of the single most expensive taxpayer-funded programmes in the UK but there's actually no clear end in sight in terms of the final cost, or even the final route.

"The project was plagued by a lack of planning and transparency from the start and there are many difficulties ahead.

"This project cannot simply keep sinking more taxpayer funds without greater clarity on the later phases. The development of Euston is a real challenge that must be resolved swiftly now."

The current estimated cost of completing HS2 is between £72bn and £98bn at 2019 prices, compared with an original budget of £55.7bn in 2015 at 2015 prices.

The DfT said: "We are making significant progress delivering HS2, a key part of our promise to build back better from Covid-19.

Image source, HS2
Image caption,
An artist's impression of Birmingham Curzon Street HS2 station

"We will continue to rigorously control pressures, and as our latest update to Parliament confirmed, Phase One remains within budget and schedule."

The Integrated Rail Plan would soon outline how major rail projects, including HS2 Phase 2b, would work together to "deliver the reliable train services that passengers across the North and Midlands need and deserve", it added.

Bounce back

HS2 Ltd, the firm behind the project, said: "HS2 Phases One and 2a have received parliamentary approval and have very clear cost ranges.

"Although there have been challenges - particularly relating to the pandemic - the project remains on budget."

The company said the HS2 was supporting more than 20,000 jobs.

The Public Accounts Committee has been critical of the rail project in the past, and in May 2020 said HS2 was "badly off course" and that bosses had been "blindsided by contact with reality".

The committee accused HS2 Ltd and the DfT of lacking transparency and undermining public confidence.

Following this criticism, the government was now providing "a clearer explanation of costs than we have previously seen in its reporting to Parliament", the MPs said on Wednesday.

As tunnelling machines bore into the earth below the Chilterns, intense scrutiny of HS2 continues above ground.

HS2's huge budget, environmental impact and community disruption are making lots of MPs and their constituents angry. But last week the government's high speed minister recommitted to the project "going full steam ahead".

But there is still a major political issue for the government on HS2 - will it all get built?

The prime minister still hasn't confirmed if the Eastern leg from the West Midlands to Leeds will happen, and Northern politicians are starting to express their frustration.

Conservative and Labour MPs in Yorkshire see it as crucial for "levelling-up" the region, alongside other major rail investment they want too.

But the government's cheque book is under pressure after a huge year of Covid spending. And with inflation rising and costs growing, we wait to see if the chancellor and prime minister push the button for it in full - or if HS2 will be slimmed down.