National Audit Office HS2 Report: "HS2 is out of control before the first track has been laid"

Aylesbury's MP Rob Butler has said today that HS2 is out of control before the first piece of track has been laid, as the National Audit Office report slams the High Speed Rail project.

By Thomas Bamford
Friday, 24th January 2020, 10:23 am
Updated Friday, 24th January 2020, 10:24 am

The Department for Transport and HS2 have been heavily criticised by the National Audit Office (NAO) which has said they did not allow for uncertainties when estimating initial costs.

Way back in 2015, the cost of HS2 was estimated to be approximately £56bn.

However earlier in the week, a leaked review which was commissioned by the Government shows costs have ballooned to £106bn, and could eventually be even higher.

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Despite this, ministers were still telling Parliament that the budget for the project remained at £55.7bn as recently in September 2019.

Additionally, in July 2019 MPs voted for Phase 2a of the project with a stated cost of £3.5bn, but the estimates today published by the National Audit Office now show the Department for Transport estimates the cost to be £6.5bn

Aylesbury's MP Rob Butler, speaking to the Herald said:

"This report from the NAO confirms what we feared.

Aylesbury MP Rob Butler

"HS2 is out of control, even before the first track has been laid.

"The country can't afford to risk more than £100bn on a single train line that brings barely any benefit.

"Instead, we need to invest in individual infrastructure projects around the country, that meet local needs.

"It could be more buses, bike routes or bypasses. Here in Aylesbury, we really need to get our roads right so people can get where they want, when they want - and help the environment by reducing the time cars sit idling in traffic jams and polluting the atmosphere.

"For the local villages, I want to see better broadband and more bus services. All this can be achieved for a fraction of the cost of HS2 - whatever that finally turns out to be".

The first phase of the project, between London and Birmingham, is due to open at the end of 2026, with the second phase to Leeds and Manchester expected to be completed by 2032-33.

Responding to this, a spokesperson for HS2 LTD said:

“The vast majority of the NAO’s findings were revealed in HS2 Ltd’s 2019 stocktake – a year’s worth of deep dive investigation into the underlying costs and timescale of the project. As such, the revised costings and schedule are already widely known.

“After being appointed HS2 Ltd CEO in 2017, Mark Thurston identified the serious challenges of complexity and risk in the project, and he made several significant changes and improvements to the organisation, its governance and processes.

"As the NAO recognises, this work - along with a greater understanding of the ground conditions and build requirements - means Ministers have robust cost estimates for Phase One of the HS2 project.

"If the Government decides to proceed, HS2 Ltd has a highly-skilled team in place ready to build Britain’s new state-of-the-art, low-carbon railway.”

The report also says that in March 2019, HS2 Ltd formally advised the Department that it would not be able to deliver Phase One of the programme on time or within available funding.

Speaking to the BBC Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said: "There are important lessons to be learned from HS2, not only for the Department for Transport and HS2 Ltd, but for other major infrastructure programmes.

"To ensure public trust, the Department and HS2 Ltd must be transparent and provide realistic assessments of costs and completion dates as the programme develops, recognising the many risks to the successful delivery of the railway that remain."