Rival mayors offer HS2 options as PAC savages DfT


Two metro mayors from opposing political parties have put forward their own plan to run HS2 trains from Birmingham to Manchester following ministers' decision to scrap Phase 2 of the high speed rail line last year.

It follows a highly critical report from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on the remaining line from London to the West Midlands (Phase 1), which MPs said will offer very poor value for money.

The PAC said that the Government had itself accepted that delivering only Phase 1 will not be value for money, as its total costs significantly outweigh its benefits.

— Andy Street (@andy4wm) February 7, 2024

The Department for Transport (DfT) told the PAC it was still better to complete Phase 1 – a calculation made by excluding the £23bn spent to date, and including as a benefit of the project avoiding approximately £11bn of remediation costs from cancelling entirely.

However, the PAC said it had been left with little assurance over the calculations, and called for a clear summation of Phase 1’s benefits.

The report also raises questions as to 'the many as-yet unknown ramifications’ of the decision to cancel HS2’s northern leg, including land disposals impacts on other rail projects, what will be delivered with a redirected £36bn, and how high-speed trains, which will likely run slower than existing trains on tracks not designed for their speed, will operate as part of the network.

The PAC pointed out it had ‘repeatedly highlighted’ cost overruns and delays on the project, pointing to a current estimated cost of up to £67bn to complete Phase 1, adding that poor cost management ‘indicates a failure of governance and oversight at both HS2 Ltd and DfT’.

Committee chair Dame Meg Hillier said: ‘Can we seriously be actively working towards a situation where our high-speed trains are forced to run slower than existing ones when they hit older track? Most importantly, how can the Government now ensure that HS2 deliver the best possible value for the taxpayer?

‘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. 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 and many unanswered questions and risks still attached to delivery of even this curtailed project.’

MPs also noted that the Government has no plan yet on how to fund the development of HS2 at Euston, and said they were ‘highly sceptical that investment can be attracted of the scale and speed required’.

On Wednesday, Tory West Midlands mayor Andy Street and Labour mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham published a set of alternative proposals to take HS2 trains to Manchester.

These included a role for private finance in significantly cheaper options, including a new, but slower-speed rail line, enhancements to the West Coast Mainline, or bypasses to the busiest sections of the line.

Register now for full access

Register just once to get unrestricted, real-time coverage of the issues and challenges facing UK transport and highways engineers.

Full website content includes the latest news, exclusive commentary from leading industry figures and detailed topical analysis of the highways, transportation, environment and place-shaping sectors. Use the link below to register your details for full, free access.

Already a registered? Login

comments powered by Disqus