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MPs Urge Government to Set out Plans for ‘Floundering’ HS2 Project

MPs Urge Government to Set out Plans for ‘Floundering’ HS2 Project

Delays in building the final stretch of the high-speed railway HS2 shows the government “does not know what it is trying to achieve” with the “floundering” station, a committee of MPs has warned.

In a report published on Friday, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the House of Commons urged the Department for Transport (DfT) to “finally establish” its expectations for the station.

HS2 Ltd— the government-owned company responsible for building the high-speed railway—first proposed an 11-platform design for Euston in 2015, to be built in two phases.

Following the recommendations of the Oakervee Review in 2020, the DfT instructed HS2 Ltd to change to a ten-platform, single-stage design in an attempt to make it simpler and cheaper.

An HS2 construction worker walks past the Euston station site in central London on Jan. 27, 2023. (PA Media)

In March, Transport Secretary Mark Harper announced that “inflationary pressures” would cause delays to the construction of key parts of HS2, meaning the final stretch from Old Oak Common in west London to Euston in central London will not be ready until some time in the 2040s.

The National Audit Office (NAO) said the latest estimate by HS2 Ltd. set the cost for the ten-platform design at Euston at £4.8 billion, over £2 billion over budget.

‘Completely Unrealistic’

The PAC said, “Despite spending over eight years on planning and designing the HS2 Euston station, the department still does not know what it is trying to achieve with the station.”

The report described the £2.6 billion budget set in April 2020 as “completely unrealistic” for what the DfT wanted to deliver.

HS2 Ltd told the committee it set that budget in the expectation it would be revised given the uncertainty around costs.

Later estimates reached £4.4 billion in June 2020 for the 11-platform design, and £4.8 billion in March for the ten-platform design.

Previous updates to Parliament on cost pressures at Euston did not disclose that construction costs could be significantly higher than expected, the committee stated.

The PAC called on the government to provide greater transparency in its six-monthly progress reports to Parliament.

Committee chair Dame Meg Hillier said: “The HS2 Euston project is floundering. This is a multibillion-pound scheme—which has already caused major disruption to the local community—put on pause. The pause, ostensibly to save money, is not cost free. Mothballing and possible compensation for businesses which have lost work will all need to be added to the HS2 tally.

“The government must now be clear about what it is trying to achieve with this new station, and how it will benefit the public.

“Our report finds that a wildly unrealistic budget for HS2 Euston was set in 2020 with the expectation that it would be revised.

“The government must demonstrate that it is not just repeating the same mistakes of unrealistic costings.

“HS2 Euston has shown us that forging ahead over-optimistically in an unclear direction is clearly not the right approach.”

Government Remains ‘Committed’

The Euston Station project involves integrating HS2 services with the existing mainline railway and London Underground.

HS2 trains are now not expected to run into Euston until 2041 at the earliest, after initially being scheduled for 2026.

It means that, when the first part of HS2 is completed, passengers arriving in central London—for example on Eurostar trains from Europe—and wanting to travel on to Birmingham will have to take the Elizabeth Line to Old Oak Common in west London to board HS2.

A DfT spokeswoman said: “We remain committed to delivering HS2 from Euston to Manchester in the most cost-effective way for taxpayers, which is why earlier this year we made the decision to rephase the construction of Euston to help balance the nation’s books and work on an affordable design for the station.

“The National Audit Office recently acknowledged this will provide time to put the station design on a more stable footing and we continue to work at pace to ensure the transformational benefits of HS2 are delivered to passengers by better connecting our biggest cities, supporting thousands of jobs and helping grow the economy.

“We note the recommendations made in the committee’s report and will respond to them in due course.”

Chris Summers and PA Media contributed to this report.

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