HS2 chief 'confident' on budget, despite new property cost claims

 

HS2 Ltd has rejected renewed claims that it misled MPs over the cost of its land acquisition programme for the first phase of the high speed railway.

The firm’s former director of land and property, Doug Thornton, told the BBC’s Panorama programme that a figure given to Parliament was ‘hundreds of millions of pounds too low’ and that he refused to use figures he believed were misleading.

He told the BBC: ‘I have never seen anything like it. I was absolutely appalled... that numbers could be advanced in such a loose and slapdash fashion.

”Local

‘There was a gap of almost 100% in terms of the wrong numbers of properties that the organisation had not budgeted for.’

Mr Thornton was subsequently sacked by HS2 Ltd, the Government-owned firm responsible for building the new railway, which denied that MPs were misled.

It told the BBC that it followed the correct process to keep Parliament updated on budgetary changes.

Chief executive Mark Thurston said: ‘It’s perfectly normal that in a scheme as vast and as complex as HS2, that over time we have a greater understanding of the alignment of the route, how many land parcels and land areas it affects and what the full extent of the acquisition programme needs to be.’

Mr Thurston also addressed concerns that the scheme is in danger of exceeding its £56bn budget. He said: ‘I’m not worried about overspending, I’m confident we’ve got a budget we can stand by.’

The Sunday Times reported similar claims from Mr Thornton in June, after which the National Audit Office (NAO) carried out an investigation.

The NAO found that the estimated cost to acquire land and property for Phase One has increased significantly since the start of the programme for a range of reasons, such as scope increases and the introduction of additional compensation schemes.

It found that although the Government’s estimate of likely expenditure at the time of the Hybrid Bill in 2013 was lower than one in a ‘Book of Reference’, Parliament did not require the estimate to be based on the Book of Reference or specify the level of maturity it required.

For the 2015 Spending Review, the Treasury approved an overall funding package of £27.18bn for Phase One (at 2015 prices), including £4.316bn for land and property, which included £878m of contingency.

Earlier this month, Sir Terry Morgan was forced to step down as chairman of HS2 Ltd following a row over delays and cost overruns on Crossrail, of which he was also chairman.

 

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