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HS2: Government must act now to clarify schedule, costs and impact

14 September 2016

The Public Accounts Committee report says that the Government must move quickly to set out a realistic timetable for delivering HS2 and clarify important details about its second phase and plans for the wider rail network.

Report conclusions and recommendations

The Committee recommends that a Department for Transport announcement on the route of phase 2b, due to be made this autumn, should also confirm whether phase 1—between London Euston and the West Midlands—will open in 2026 or 2027.

In a new Report, the Committee finds costs estimates for phase 2—extending the network between the West Midlands and Crewe (2a), and to Manchester and Leeds (2b)—are still volatile and must be firmed up urgently.

It highlights HS2 Ltd's recommendation to the Department that the planned HS2 station in South Yorkshire be moved from Meadowhall to Sheffield Midland station as "one example of the significant uncertainty" that remains about phase 2.

Impact of route changes is not clear

The impact of these proposed route changes on passengers, local communities, growth and regeneration is not clear, says the Committee, and urges the Department to explain the basis for its final decision as part of the phase 2b announcement.

The Committee acknowledges "considerable progress" has been made with preparations for HS2 since it reported on the project in 2013 and welcomes the Department's commitment to setting out how UK railways will operate as an integrated network.

How HS2 will work with rest of railways remains uncertain

However, uncertainty remains over how HS2 will work with the rest of the transport system, for example how it will interact with proposed transport investment in the North of England.

The Report states "a great deal of work is still required" to integrate plans for HS2 with other rail investment proposals and the existing network.

It adds: "Furthermore, greater assurance about sources of funding and finance for regeneration and growth is required to ensure that the promised regional benefits from High Speed 2 materialise."

Chair's comments

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.

The announcement at the weekend that HS2 Ltd chief executive Simon Kirby is leaving the company adds to the uncertainty enveloping a project on which strong and stable leadership is vital.

Lack of clarity over plans for HS2 in South Yorkshire highlights what is at stake for communities and local economies, and why government must explain its intentions and the basis for its decisions in a transparent manner.

The public must be confident the grand vision for HS2 does not blind the Government to the finer points which have implications for many people's lives now and in the decades to come.

Similarly, local authorities must know central government's intentions to ensure they can plan effectively for regeneration and maximise the potential for growth near HS2 stations.

The Government is due to announce its decision on the 2b route this autumn and we urge it to seize this opportunity to address the concerns set out in our Report."

Report summary

The Department for Transport and HS2 Ltd have made considerable progress with preparations for High Speed 2 since the previous Committee last reported on the project in 2013. They have issued tender documents for major civil engineering contracts on phase 1 and plan to announce the preferred route for phase 2b later in 2016.

However, we are concerned that the Department's timetable for High Speed 2 is overly ambitious, which is exemplified by the fact that the Department and HS2 Ltd are now looking at delaying the planned opening date for phase 1 by up to 12 months from December 2026 to December 2027.

The cost estimates for phase 2 are still volatile and currently exceed available funding by £7 billion. We remain to be convinced that proposed savings of £9 billion can be made without adversely affecting the benefits of the programme.

Significant uncertainty remains for phase 2

HS2 Ltd's recent recommendation to the Department that the planned High Speed 2 station in South Yorkshire be moved from Meadowhall to Sheffield Midland station is one example of the significant uncertainty that remains about plans for phase 2.

We welcome the Department's commitment to set out how the UK railways will operate as a single, integrated network, but a great deal of work is still required to integrate plans for High Speed 2 with other rail investment proposals, and with the existing network.

Furthermore, greater assurance about sources of funding and finance for regeneration and growth is required to ensure that the promised regional benefits from High Speed 2 materialise.

Further information

Image: HS2 Ltd