Sector - Finance & Legislation

High speed slow down

With a parliamentary review scheduled for this autumn, the latest news from HS2 will raise eyebrows across the sector as huge delays to the project are predicted.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, has revealed that the project is likely to suffer from delays as well as costing issues. He said: “The Chairman of HS2 does not believe that the current scheme design can be delivered within the budget of £55.7Bn, set in 2015 prices. Instead he estimates that the current scheme requires a total budget – including contingency – in the range of £72 to £78Bn, again in 2015 prices.”

The first phase of high speed rail was due to be delivered for 2026, this date is now being pushed back to at least 2028.

Mr Shapps continued: “Regarding schedule, the Chairman does not believe the current schedule of 2026 for initial services on Phase One is realistic. In line with lessons from other major transport infrastructure projects, his advice proposes a range of dates for the start of service. He recommends 2028 to 2031 for Phase One – with a staged opening, starting with initial services between London Old Oak Common and Birmingham Curzon Street, followed by services to and from London Euston later. He expects Phase 2b, the full high-speed line to Manchester and Leeds, to open between 2035 and 2040.”

The comments come as the new Chairman for HS2 Allan Cook, prepared for the parliamentary review. He started his role in December. While a report from the Public Accounts Committee also called the timings and budget into question earlier this year.

Darren Caplan, Chief Executive of the Railway Industry Association, said: “Despite [the] news that HS2 Phase 1 may not be completed until 2028/31 and the update on costs, it is important to remember the project remains vital for the UK, its economy, cities and regional communities, and as shown by Chairman Alan Cook’s Stocktake, the benefits have been substantially undervalued. It will still more than pay for itself in GVA for the country, and will support 30,000 jobs at peak construction.

“We do of course need to ensure major infrastructure schemes like these represent value for money for the taxpayer, which is why the Railway Industry Association welcomed the setting up of the Oakervee Review and looks forward to working with the Review team to see how HS2 can be delivered as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.”

Meanwhile, in the North, business and political leaders have joined forces to launch a new campaign demanding the Government press ahead with the HS2 high speed rail scheme and with Northern Powerhouse Rail.

The Connecting Britain campaign says that the North is being held back by a lack of investment into transport infrastructure and argues that improving connectivity from the Midlands to the North would support economic growth, improve productivity, and boost jobs and skills.

Paul Hirst, chair of transport and infrastructure for the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said: “The Connecting Britain campaign launching today has been set up to make sure the Northern Powerhouse and the Midlands get the connectivity they deserve, creating opportunities for young people to secure the skilled jobs and training our businesses need to thrive.”

While Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council and campaign partner of Connecting Britain, said: “A green light on HS2 and NPR in full would be a clear signal from the government that it recognises that historic underinvestment in strategic transport infrastructure outside London is a trend that must be reversed if all communities are to be levelled-up and regions rebalanced.

“We will work with the government and the Oakervee Review into HS2, to demonstrate the strength of the economic case for the full and timely delivery of HS2 fully integrated with NPR and other complementary infrastructure schemes in the North and Midlands.”

The first part of HS2, connecting London and Birmingham, was due to open in 2026. Mr Shapps said it would now open in stages between 2028 and 2031.

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