The High Speed Two programme has gone badly off-course and is now estimated to cost up to £88 billion, significantly more than the original budget of £55.7 billion (both figures are 2015 prices). We are unconvinced that there will not be further cost increases, such as those we have seen in Crossrail and many other programmes, especially given that the route and forecast cost of the northern sections of the proposed railway is still very uncertain and will remain so for years to come. Passengers will not see the benefits from Phase One between London and the West Midlands until 2029 at the earliest, compared to the original plan of 2026, with passengers in the North having to wait much longer while the Government decides the future of the northern sections of the railway.
As well as cost increases and delays, public confidence in the programme has been undermined. At best, the Department for Transport’s (the Department’s) previous evidence to the Committee has been less than clear. The Department withheld information from us which would have given a clearer and more accurate picture of the budget and schedule pressures the project was facing. The Department and High Speed Two Ltd (HS2 Ltd) seemed to believe that a lack of transparency with Parliament and the public on the problems facing the programme would in some way protect it. With so many peoples’ homes and livelihoods affected by the construction of the railway, there is no justification for the Department and HS2 Ltd having been so opaque about the delays and budget overruns. Now that the Government has given the programme the green light, things must change and there must be much greater transparency in future.
What we have seen about Government’s management of this programme is all too familiar and we remain concerned that lessons from the delivery of other major projects are still not being learned. To protect taxpayers’ money there should be far greater focus on fostering and embedding a culture that values learning from experience to do things even better and avoid repeating the same mistakes. We will regularly examine how this programme is progressing and what the Department and HS2 Ltd are doing to address our recommendations for improvement.
Published: 17 May 2020