Spending watchdog red flags HS2 costs and timetable

THE HS2 high speed rail link between Birmingham and London is likely to be delayed and over-budget, the national spending watchdog has said.

The National Audit Office said it was concerned the timetable set down for the £56bn project was unrealistic and that escalating costs would place a severe strain on the public purse.

Nevertheless, HS2 Ltd, the company responsible for delivering the project, has said it is confident that the scheme can be delivered on time and to budget.

In a report on the project, Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said the unrealistic timetable set for HS2 Ltd by the Department for Transport meant it was not as ready to deliver what had been hoped for at this point.

He said the DfT needed to get the project working to an achievable timescale.

The NAO has also said that phase one of HS2 – the Birmingham to London section – was currently forecast to cost £27.4bn, exceeding available funding by £204m.

The estimated cost of phase two – the extension to Leeds and Manchester – was also said to be over budget.

HS2 Ltd said it welcomed the findings but added that while many challenges remained, the project was on track both to deliver its strategic scope and to do so on budget.

Simon Kirby, chief executive, HS2 Ltd, said: “The role of the NAO is to challenge projects such as HS2 and through that challenge improve the way they deliver for the taxpayer. This report does this and we accept that challenge.

“It also, however, recognises the real progress we have made in taking the concept of HS2 and moving it nearer reality.

“As the report says, HS2 remains a highly ambitious project, but as it also demonstrates there are real and substantial grounds why the public, government and parliament should have increased confidence in our ability to deliver the project. Our job is to keep earning that confidence going forward.”