HS2 bosses given deadline to justify route cancellation


HS2 now offers very poor value for money following the cancellation of construction of the northern phase last year, a select committee has found.  

Credit: HS2.

HS2 Limited and the Department for Transport (DfT) have been given six months to justify to the taxpayer their ‘mismanagement’ of the national infrastructure project and how both organisations intend to bring historic cost and governance failures under control. 

In October last year, prime minister Rishi Sunak announced he was scrapping the Birmingham to Manchester leg of the rail line, opting instead to only complete Phase One between London and the West Midlands. 

At the time, Balfour Beatty Group chief executive, Leo Quinn wrote on social media the announcement was “incredibly disappointing for the construction and infrastructure industry”. 

This week, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which examines the value for money of public projects, programmes and service delivery, determined the total cost of delivering only the first phase, now estimated to be as high as £67 billion, “significantly outweigh its benefits”. 

The committee also said it is “highly sceptical” whether the private finance necessary to fund the development of HS2 Euston station can be achieved, as “the Government has no plan yet on how to make this happen”. 

The cancellation of the Northern phase also raises other “urgent and unanswered” questions, said the committee, including: 

  • What happens to the Phase Two land, some of which has been compulsorily purchased? 
  • What are the impacts on other rail projects dependent on the cancelled phases? 
  • What will be delivered with the redirected £36 billion for Network North, and when? 
  • Will high-speed trains now run slower than existing ones when they hit older track?   
  • How will HS2 deliver the best possible value for the taxpayer? 

In January, HS2 Limited executive chairman, Sir Jonathan Thompson, told a Transport Committee during a progress report the government’s initial estimate for the whole HS2 programme had been too low, even before accounting for soaring materials costs in recent years.    

“HS2 is the biggest ticket item by value on the Government’s books for infrastructure projects. As such, it was crying out for a steady hand at the tiller from the start,” said Dame Meg Hillier MP, chairperson of the PAC. 

“But here we are after over a decade of our warnings on HS2’s management and spiralling costs – locked into the costly completion of a curtailed rump of a project with many unanswered questions and risks still attached to delivery of even this curtailed project.” 

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