Public Accounts Committee adds that original costings were unrealistic
Mothballing HS2 work at Euston shows the government “does not know what it is trying to achieve” with the station, MPs have said.
The job was put on ice in March by transport secretary Mark Harper because of concerns about spiralling costs which stand at £4.8bn from a budget of £2.6bn.
The job, which is set to be built by a Mace/Dragados joint venture, has seen more than 1,000 people leave it since that decision with the design team being cut from 500 to just six. At peak, the site will have a workforce of between 2,500 and 3,000 people on it which was supposed to have been in 2025 and 2026.
It has been paused until at least April 2025 but there are fears the delay will be longer than that.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) urged the Department for Transport (DfT) to “finally establish” its expectations for the central London 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 10-platform, single-stage design in an attempt to make it simpler and cheaper.
There has been a rollcall of industry criticism of the decision to pause work
The DfT has said it will use the pause to determine the minimum requirements for the station and make decisions about what should be prioritised.
Options being looked at include making it a seven platform station and adding three more platforms as later legs come on stream.
But 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.”
It said the £2.6bn budget set in April 2020 as “completely unrealistic” for what the DfT wanted to deliver.
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 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 in 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.”
When the railway first opens between London and Birmingham – expected between 2029 and 2033 – its terminus in the capital will be Old Oak Common, which is being built by a team including Balfour Beatty, Vinci and Systra.
There has been a rollcall of industry criticism of the decision to pause work with Arcadis chief executive Alan Brookes calling it “baffling” and Keltbray chief executive Darren James adding: “If they pause if for two years, they delay it by three and it costs them hundreds of millions of pounds as a consequence.”
The decision has previously been criticised by the chair of the National Infrastructure Commission John Armitt who told Building: “Having decided to build it, we should get on and build it. The cheapest way is to build it as quickly as possible.”
The Euston site is expected to reduce to a couple of hundred people in the coming months as work to make it safe is completed.