MPs say the £55bn HS2 rail link project needs a ‘realistic timetable’

MPs have warned that the £55bn HS2 rail link project needs a ‘realistic timetable’ as the current schedule is ‘overly ambitious’.

The HS2 is a planned high-speed railway in the United Kingdom linking London, Birmingham, the East Midlands, Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester.

Map of high-speed rail lines in the UK showing the existing LGV/Channel Tunnel and High Speed 1 to London, along with the the planned High Speed 2 lines. Source: Wikipedia

The Public Accounts Committee is not convinced that the first phase of the project, which will connect London and Birmingham, will be completed by the end of 2026 as planned.

In addition, the PAC expressed concerns over the cost and route of the second phase, linking to Manchester and Leeds.

The report states “a great deal of work is still required” to integrate plans for HS2 with other rail investment proposals and the existing network.

Adding: “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.”

A government spokesperson responded to the PAC’s concerns, stating that the project was “on time and on budget”.

“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,” a spokesperson for the Department for Transport was quoted by the BBC as saying.

Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the PAC, said:

“The Government has promised significant benefits to taxpayers in return for their investment in HS2, expected to run to more than £55 billion.

Despite this, 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.

The announcement at the weekend that HS2 Ltd chief executive Simon Kirby is leaving the company adds 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.

Similarly, local authorities must know central government’s intentions to ensure they can plan effectively for regeneration and maximise the potential for growth near HS2 stations.

The Government is due to announce its decision on the 2b route this autumn and we urge it to seize this opportunity to address the concerns set out in our Report.”

The report was released just days after HS2, the firm building the route, announced that its current boss Simon Kirby will be leaving the company for a senior role at Rolls-Royce.