Report reveals HS2 programme pressures

Opening of High Speed 2’s London to Birmingham phase is already at risk of delay according to a new report by the National Audit Office (NAO) which highlights cost and schedule pressures on the project.

The report comes amid suggestions that the case for HS2 is weaker than ever following last week’s EU Referendum result. 

It reveals that the Department for Transport (DfT) has asked HS2 Ltd to revisit the programme schedule for phase one – currently due to open in 2026 – in order to increase confidence for delivery from 60% to 80%, without increasing costs.

The project company has also been asked to assess the impact of extending the timetable for opening the line between London and Birmingham by up to 12 months.

National Audit Office head Amyas Morse said: “HS2 is a large, complex and ambitious programme which is facing cost and time pressures. The unrealistic timetable set for HS2 Ltd by the Department means they are not as ready to deliver as they hoped to be at this point. 

“The Department now needs to get the project working to a timescale that is achievable.”

The report also highlights cost pressures for HS2, with phase one currently forecast to exceed available funding by £204M. The DfT has therefore asked HS2 Ltd to explore options for reducing the programme scope in ways that do not have a significant impact on the benefits.

Committee of Public Accounts chair Meg Hillier MP said: “The programme is at a critical juncture and the Department has some major decisions to make if it is going to protect taxpayers’ interests and deliver all that the Government has promised from HS2.”

The report also urges the DfT to address how HS2 services will complement or compete with other rail services, and how the scheme will interact with proposed improvements in the North.

HS2 chief executive Simon Kirby said: “The role of the NAO is to challenge projects such as HS2 and through that challenge improve the way they deliver for the taxpayer. This report does this and we accept that challenge.

“It also, however, recognises the real progress we have made in taking the concept of HS2 and moving it nearer reality.”

 ♦ Anti-HS2 group High Speed UK has said that now is “not the time” for the Government to press on with the project in light of last week’s result in the EU Referendum.

“All policy areas will come under increased scrutiny and transport infrastructure will be no exception,” said the group, which supports a rival high speed rail proposal. “Spending in excess of £50Bn on HS2, a high speed rail line that will predominantly serve London and not address the capacity and connectivity issues of the current rail network, makes even less sense than it did before the vote to leave the European Union.”