MPs urge government to clarify HS2 route and timetable

14 Sep 16

The government must set out a realistic timetable for delivering the High Speed 2 rail project and clarify important details regarding its second phase, the Public Accounts Committee has said.

In a review of the project, the committee said the project had made “considerable progress” since its last review in 2013, but concluded the costs for second phase were “still volatile and needed to be firmed up urgently”. Meanwhile, it called on the Department for Transport to dispel doubts around the opening date of the first phase of the line as soon as possible.

Phase 1 of the project will see a high-speed railway line constructed between London and the West Midlands, which is due to open in either 2026 or 2027. Phases 2a and 2b involve extending the line from the West Midlands to Crewe, and to Manchester and Leeds, respectively. It is estimated Phase 2 will begin running trains around 2033.

The report comes after it was announced that HS2 chief executive Simon Kirby had resigned to take up a position at car manufacturer Rolls Royce.

Critics have repeatedly questioned the timetable and cost of the project, with the Taxpayer’s Alliance recently describing the scheme as an “expensive vanity project”. 

The PAC’s Progress with preparations for High Speed 2 report highlighted a recent recommendation from the project team that the planned station in South Yorkshire be moved from Meadowhall to Sheffield Midland station as “one example of the significant uncertainty” that remains about the second phase. It urges the Department of Transport to clarify these issues in an announcement due in the autumn confirming the preferred route for Phase 2b.

Also, uncertainty remains around how the high speed network will integrate with the rest of the transport system, in particular how it will integrate with proposed transport improvements in the North of England. According to the report, “a great deal of work is still required” to integrate plans for HS2 with further rail investment proposals.

“Furthermore, greater assurance about sources of funding and finance for regeneration and growth is required to ensure that the promised regional benefits from High Speed 2 materialise,” it stated.

Committee chair Meg Hillier observed that the government has promised significant benefits to taxpayers in return for investment in HS2, which is expected to cost more than £55bn.

But “parliament and the public are still in the dark about crucial details – not least when the railway will open, how much it is expected to cost and precisely where it will go”, she stated.

Reflecting on Kirby’s departure, Hillier said this could only add to the “uncertainty enveloping a project on which strong and stable leadership is vital.”

“Lack of clarity over plans for HS2 in South Yorkshire highlights what is at stake for communities and local economies, and why government must explain its intentions and the basis for its decisions in a transparent manner.

“The public must be confident the grand vision for HS2 does not blind the government to the finer points which have implications for many people’s lives now and in the decades to come,” she added.

Responding to the report, a spokesman for the Department for Transport said: "We are keeping a tough grip on costs, and pressing ahead with plans for phase two - with further details due to be announced this autumn."

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