HS2

17.12.18

MPs misled over ‘enormously wrong’ land costs for HS2, reveals whistleblower

A whistleblowing former executive at HS2 has revealed that the land cost estimate given to MPs before they approved the high-speed rail project was “enormously wrong.”

The whistle-blower declared that the decision to approve HS2, which will oversee the biggest land and property acquisition programme since World War II, was based on an early land and property cost estimate that was hundreds of millions of pounds too low.

Doug Thornton told BBC Panorama that MPs were misled by the project, which has seen its costs spiral: its budget has risen from £34bn to £56bn. Thornton added that he was “appalled” by the inaccurate estimates about purchasing land for the project.

“There was a gap of almost 100% in terms of the wrong numbers of properties that the organisation had not budgeted for,” Thorton told the programme, which is due to be broadcast on tonight.

HS2 rejects the claims that MPs were misled, and insists that it has followed the correct processes to keep Parliament updated on budgetary changes.

Thorton said he had “never seen anything like it,” and that “we started to talk about it to our finance team, we talked about it to HR, we talked about it to line managers, so it was there, we were calling it out.”

The former land and property director for HS2 was later dismissed.

The investigation spoke to another HS2 insider who agreed that the company had estimates that were higher than the early costing that MPs had at the time.

The National Audit Office investigated the land and property programme earlier this year and found that, whilst estimated property costs did increase significantly, HS2 was not required to provide updated estimates to MPs.

HS2’s acquisition of properties was criticised for tripling costs as well as slow payments, with only half of advance payments to claimants completed within the three-month period after receiving a claim request.

The chief executive of HS2, Mark Thurston, told Panorama: “I’m not worried about overspending. I’m confident we’ve got a budget we can stand by.”

Just earlier this month, Sir Terry Morgan resigned as the chairman of both Crossrail and HS2 over the overrunning costs and delays to the Elizabeth Line rail project, with the government fearing the same fate for HS2.

Image credit -  Ben Birchall/PA Wire/PA Images

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