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‘Clarity needed’ over HS2 schedule and costs as phase 1 date faces year delay

HS2 is still struggling to convincingly explain its timetable and costs, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has warned.

The warning comes as HS2 Ltd and government officials are now considering postponing the opening of phase 1 of the high-speed railway from December 2026 to 2027, when phase 2a is expected to open – although the DfT “maintains that delays to phase 1 will not have an impact on the phase 2 timetable”.

In addition, the PAC said that HS2 had not provided a clear estimate of the costs of phase 2. At the time of the 2015 Spending Review, the DfT estimated it would cost £35.5bn against an agreed budget of £28.5bn. The department and HS2 Ltd have now produced a plan for £9bn of savings, but the PAC said that it “remains to be seen” whether they could be delivered without “adversely affecting” the goals of the programme.

Meg Hillier MP, chair of the PAC, said: “The government has promised significant benefits to taxpayers in return for their investment in HS2, expected to run to more than £55 billion.

“Despite this, Parliament and the public are still in the dark about crucial details – not least when the railway will open, how much it is expected to cost and precisely where it will go.

Hillier also said that Simon Kirby’s resignation as HS2 chief executive “adds to the uncertainty enveloping a project on which strong and stable leadership is vital”.

And a lack of clarity over HS2’s plans for South Yorkshire also “highlights what is at stake for communities and local economies”, she added, with the committee stressing that the DfT needs to explain why it choose to change the planned route so that it stops at Sheffield Midland instead of Meadowhall.

The change is meant to save £1bn, but the PAC said that it would only allow one or two high-speed trains an hour to stop in Sheffield, instead of the planned five, whilst the disruption to communities that had not expected to be affected by the development was not yet known.

The PAC said that by autumn this year, when the department is due to announce the route of phase 2b, it should produce a realistic timetable for the project, including confirming when phase 1 will open and a firm cost estimate for phase 2.

It added that the department needs to report back within 12 months on its progress in securing the relevant skills for the project, seek assurances from local authorities that they will identify funding and financing to secure the growth benefits of HS2, and publish plans on how HS2 will be integrated into the rest of the rail network.

Joe Rukin, campaign manager for Stop HS2, said: “Not for the first time, the Public Accounts Committee has produced a report on HS2 which is stating the bleeding obvious.

“It has always been the case with HS2 that the costs are volatile, the timescales unrealistic, that there is no money for regeneration and no plan for how it will effect existing trains. We have been saying this for six years, but despite all that, there has always been this irresponsible dogmatic insistence that this white elephant must happen.”

But an HS2 Ltd spokesperson said: “As with the NAO report earlier this year, we greatly welcome the scrutiny of the Public Accounts Committee, and their acknowledgement of the considerable progress that the programme has made since 2013.

“We are making good progress in building confidence in our programme plan, and will continue to do so over the coming months. We expect to get a government decision on the 2b route this autumn and we are on track to achieve Royal Assent by the end of the year.”

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “The government is fully committed to HS2 and the project is on time and on budget.

“We are keeping a tough grip on costs, and pressing ahead with plans for Phase Two – with further details due to be announced this Autumn.

“Improving regional infrastructure is vital in supporting regional growth and building an economy that works for everyone. HS2 is a key part of this, and will be the backbone of our national rail network.”

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Huguenot   14/09/2016 at 14:32

Does the Phase 2 diversion via Sheffield Midland mean that only classic-compatible HS2 trains will be able to reach Leeds or will the original route to Leeds still be available for trains not stopping at Sheffield? As for the suggested delay to Phase 1, why not make OId Oak Common (OAC) a temporary terminus for the first year, thus allowing more time to construct the line into Euston; then OAC to Birmingham could open on time.

Chris M   15/09/2016 at 02:43

More MPs using HS2 as an excuse to grandstand and seem to be doing something. I recall another lot complaining that the phase 1 legislation timetable was 'unrealistic' but guess what? It was realistic after all! Not that I even see the point in complaining about lack of clarity when the government has said the final decisions on phase 2 will not be announced until later in the year. This bunch were never going to get a sneak preview of what is clearly a very complex work in progress, and until the relationship with the NPR scheme is known there will be no clarity for them. As for timescales, phase 2 isn't promised to open until 2033. There is lots of leeway, even if the legislation doesn't become law until 2021. Hopefully it can open several years earlier.

Chris M   15/09/2016 at 02:49

Huguenot, Sheffield is now proposed to have it's own spur to classic tracks. Leeds trains will not stop there, and captive sets will still be able to go all the way to Leeds. There is no option to run the full phase 1 operation from Old Oak Common - there are not enough platforms to turn back 12 trains an hour, nor is there a good reason to expand the concrete box at huge expense and use up even more land. Plus Crossrail could not cope with moving onwards every HS2 passenger getting off at Old Oak.

Graham Nalty   16/09/2016 at 18:32

It is very sad, but HS2 has been very badly planned with no clear aim to grow the economy or add capacity the most effective way. The latest change gives less connectivity to Sheffield when the city had asked for better city centre connectivity. It is as if HS2 has been designed to meet the travel market of the 1980s with its over-emphasis on fast journey times and under provision of fast services BETWEEN Northern cities. Whilst the route is far too London - centric, the new change to avoid Sheffield can only benefit London more and the North far less. HS2 Ltd. has not learned from the experience of Europe where stations are in city centres - not 5-10 miles out, and city centre stations are through stations - no wonder there is such a problem with Euston. Most people favour putting greater effort on the Northern Powerhouse linking Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield where the trains need speeding up.

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