Public Accounts Committee criticises government, saying scheme ‘needed steady hand on tiller’ – and didn’t get it
Running HS2 trains just from Birmingham to west London will be “very poor value for money”, MPs have said and warned they have serious doubts about whether the originally planned station at Euston can attract enough private finance to get it back up and running.
The leg to Manchester was scrapped last autumn by prime minister Rishi Sunak, months after the government mothballed the station scheme at Euston and decided to end it at Old Oak Common – forcing passengers to complete their journeys into the middle of the capital by alternative methods and leading National Infrastrucrure Commission chair John Armitt to liken it to a “shuttle service”.
A report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), out today, said “urgent decisions [needed] to be made on funding the development of HS2 Euston, which is dependent on attracting private finance to pay for it. The government has no plan yet on how to make this happen.”
And it added: “The PAC is highly sceptical that investment can be attracted of the scale and speed required to make Euston a success.”
The report also raised questions about Sunak’s decision to cancel HS2’s northern section because of spiralling costs.
These include how land and property no longer needed will be disposed of, impacts on other rail projects dependent on the cancelled phases, what will be delivered with the money saved and how HS2 trains will operate on existing lines.
PAC chair Meg Hillier MP said: “The decision to cancel HS2’s Northern leg was a watershed moment that raises urgent and unanswered questions, laid out in our report.
“What happens now to the Phase 2 land, some of which has been compulsorily purchased? Can we seriously be actively working towards a situation where our high-speed trains are forced to run slower than existing ones when they hit older track? Most importantly, how can the government now ensure that HS2 deliver the best possible value for the taxpayer?”
She added: “HS2 is the biggest ticket item by value on the government’s books for infrastructure projects. As such, it was crying out for a steady hand at the tiller from the start. But, here we are after over a decade of our warnings on HS2’s management and spiralling costs – locked into the costly completion of a curtailed rump of a project and many unanswered questions.”
The PAC set out several recommendations the Department for Transport should address in its next six monthly update including “setting out clearly how it has sought to maximise benefits from Phase 1” and “progress in reviewing existing contracts to ensure that contractors are now incentivised to minimise costs”.
It also said it need to “develop plans for a range of private investment scenarios, including different levels of public finance, as part of its consideration of how to progress with the station at Euston”.