Influential MPs have told the Department for Transport (DfT) to get its act together on HS2, stating they are ‘increasingly alarmed’ at the lack of direction, decision-making and engagement with the public, which is causing delays, as well as cost overruns.
Arguing that there is ‘no clear end in sight to HS2 cost or delays’ with many difficulties ahead, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) suggested that key elements to the scheme were running out of time, particularly work at Euston Station.
MPs revealed that despite the necessary planning consents being in place since last year, HS2 Ltd told them the DfT ‘is yet to make key decisions on the design and approach to construction at Euston station’.
HS2 Ltd told the committee that it is ‘getting close to the point where the programme will literally run out of time’ if this next decision is not made soon.
On top of this, the Government also still needs to decide how Phase 2b – the northern sections of the route – will integrate with other parts of the railway and transport system, the MPs said.
There is also wider concern about the future of the Eastern leg of Phase 2. HS2 Ltd has not even been working on this section since February 2020, and the prospect of the Government cutting the entire link to the East Midlands has been raised.
The PAC added that the increases in costs ‘have dented public confidence, and the volume of complaints about disruption and environmental damage from construction is rising and expected to increase further’.
HS2 Ltd has an ‘opportunity to get on the front foot and engage with communities earlier and more successfully than it has done so far’ the PAC said.
It added that the DfT and HS2 Ltd ‘have been unable to tell the committee how they will ensure delivery of the range of benefits Government has promised to the people, communities and businesses along the route, including the creation of local jobs’.
PAC chair Dame Meg Hillier said: ‘HS2 is already one of the single most-expensive taxpayer-funded programmes in the UK but there’s actually no clear end in sight in terms of the final cost, or even the final route. The project was plagued by a lack of planning and transparency from the start and there are many difficulties ahead.
‘This project cannot simply keep sinking more taxpayer funds without greater clarity on the later phases. The development of Euston is a real challenge that must be resolved swiftly now.’
The committee called for the Department to set out in its next 6-monthly report to Parliament:
- the decisions that it has made about Euston;
- details of the assurances it has undertaken;
- its timeline on when remaining decision points will be met; and
- any impact on the Euston opening range of 2031 to 2036.
The committee also called for the DfT and HS2 Ltd to write to it within three months, setting out how they intend to resolve the issues around community engagement and the environment.