The company behind the Government’s HS2 rail project was over-ambitious and there is “significant uncertainty” as to whether it can be completed between 2036 and 2040 as planned, a report from said.
The public watchdog’s third progress report, published on Friday, said the estimated cost of the high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham, then on to Manchester and Leeds, would rise to £88bn from the £55.7bn estimated in 2015. The National Audit Office report heavily criticises the Department for Transport and the state-funded High Speed Rail company, and the wider government.
It comes in the week a report by former HS2 chairman Doug Oakervee, which was leaked to the public, suggested that the total could reach up to £106bn. This document has not been officially published, but highlights previously unanticipated costs also highlighted in the NAO’s report, including addressing difficult ground conditions and challenging city infrastructure.
Matt Crompton, joint managing director of Muse Developments, said: “We are frustrated that HS2 is over budget and delayed, but look at Heathrow Terminal 3 [which was heavily delayed] – the UK isn’t known for delivering schemes like this to their predicted timescales.” The NAO’s conclusions “were to be expected,” he added.
However, he said he remains optimistic following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s promises for the North outlined in his election campaign last year, and still expects the railway to be delivered.
“We’re currently working on schemes in Stockport, Chester, Manchester and Blackpool, and we recognise that progressing public transport and the areas around them are the way forward. We want to see that that is done right.”
The NAO stresses that, on no uncertain terms, construction must begin on Phase One, the link between London Euston and Birmingham Curzon Street, by March 2020 to avoid further delays. Phase One services from Euston are scheduled to start by 2036.
The HS2 company “did not account for the level of uncertainty and risk in the programme when previously estimating the costs of Phase One”, the report said.
Tim Wood, Transport for the North’s Northern Powerhouse Rail director, said: “We welcome this report, which clearly underlies the need to keep a tight grip on costs and risks as we move to inject far greater capacity, connectivity and speed into the UK’S creaking Victorian railway infrastructure for the 21st century and beyond.”
Phase 2B, the route between Manchester and Leeds, is larger in scale than Phase One and 2A combined, but has less funding allocated to it and would be built on more challenging terrain. It would also have to incorporate connections between the existing railway lines and HS2, which would add to its overall cost.
HS2 claims it has completed 5% of the initial scheme design for Phase 2B. NAO states that the HS2 department has been planning to introduce legislation for Phase 2B into Parliament in June 2020, but thinks that “this is ambitious and any delays will impact on the planned opening date”.
The report added that it is not clear when services on HS2 between Leeds and Manchester would start, although HS2 estimates it would open between 2036 and 2040.
HS2 is set to improve infrastructure along with adding 342 miles of tracks to the country. In the North West, this includes station upgrades to Manchester Piccadilly, two more stations for Manchester Airport and one for Crewe. Developments around these areas, such as Mayfield which is connected to Piccadilly and others set to be brought forward in the Piccadilly Basin area are set to benefit from the added infrastructure, but impacts on the schemes are yet to be discucssed in detail.
“Transport for the North believes HS2 is an essential part of that national upgrade, alongside Northern Powerhouse Rail,” added Wood.