Britain’s top civil servant is conducting a cost review of the HS2 rail link, which could be holding up a key gateway for the £55bn project, it has emerged.
Media reports suggest that cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood is reviewing HS2 as part of work led by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) reflecting concerns that the budget could still be exceeded, despite major cuts two years ago.
The Government recently raised the budget for the project from £50bn to £55bn to take account of inflation.
This would be the second time the Government has had to review costs for the project before anything is built, following a report by Sir David Higgins', which called for the project to be brought forward years ahead of scheuld to save cash.
It also resulted in a promise from transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin to scrap plans for a HS2 - HS1 link in London.
Head of the civil service, Sir Jeremy Heywood
A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said, ‘As is normal for large projects, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority is conducting assurance of the HS2 programme as it proceeds into its delivery phase. It is standard practice for this to include a small cross-Government team.’
She added that it is not unusual for the cabinet secretary to be involved in this type of review, especially on such a large project.
The IPA came into being in January. In March, the Public Accounts Committee reported that the IPA had said that HS2 was one of the three projects it was most concerned about, ‘because of its scope and scale’.
The Guardian also suggested that the Heywood review is holding up a Cabinet Office-led review, known as review point one (RP1), which will evaluate whether HS2 Ltd is fit to manage the project.
An HS2 spokesperson said: ‘RP1 is a standard project gateway. There are no delays to the programme and we remain on target to progress a further round of major contract invitations this Summer.’
At time of writing,Transport Network was awaiting a response from the Cabinet Office as to whether the Heywood review is holding up RP1.
HS2 attracted further controversy when the Government announced that the post of HS2 Ltd chair was ‘expected to be advertised within the next few months’. A spokesperson for HS2 Ltd said that this was a mistake and that current chair Sir David Higgins is not leaving.
Stop HS2 chair Penny Gaines said: ‘With the Cabinet Secretary looking at HS2 Ltd to see if he can find places to cut costs, and the Cabinet Office accidently publicising the job of HS2 Ltd Chair, its clear someone's not happy with the way HS2 is going. And there is no surprise there.’
To make matters worse, the Daily Mail has reported that a population of 11 hedgehogs could be ‘devastated’ by plans to turn a car park in Regent’s Park, near Euston, into a lorry depot during the building of the new line.