Cost of HS2 high speed rail line ‘in excess of £160 billion’

The HS2 high speed rail line will cost a massive GBP160 billion to build in full – more than GBP50 billion more than previous estimates, an MP has claimed. Conservative Andrew Bridgen told Parliament that he had received information from whistleblowers within HS2 Ltd, the Government-owned business building the line, and the Department for Transport, which suggested the cost had shot up. He also said the first phase of the line, running between London and Birmingham, would not open until 2041, around ten years later than planned.

The line is officially due to open at some point between 2029 and 2033. The Department for Transport today insisted Mr Bridgen’s figures were wrong. : Lib Dems debate turning West Midlands into a ‘state’ like Scotland[1]

Mr Bridgen, a Leicestershire MP, said he had received documents “from whistleblowers within HS2 and the Department for Transport, which indicated that phase 1 is now unlikely to be open for passengers before 2041 and that the whole project is going to be GBP160 billion in today’s money.” Speaking in a debate on the HS2 line, he said that phase one, which has an official budget of no more than GBP44.6 billion, would in fact cost GBP70 billion. He said: “Phase 1 is already GBP70 billion, and the enabling works are running massively over budget.

They are being suppressed, and that is going to be thrown into the main budget at the end.” A review by former HS2 chair Douglas Oakervee concluded in early 2020 that the cost of HS2 could be up to GBP87.7 billion in 2019 prices. One independent estimate put the cost at GBP106 billion, but this finding was rejected by the Oakervee review.

All of the previously estimated costs, however, are significantly lower than the GBP160 billion suggested by Mr Bridgen. This would include the full line between London, Birmingham, Crewe and Manchester, as well as the section between Birmingham, the East Midlands and Yorkshire. This eastern leg of HS2 is in doubt, as there have been a number of reports that the Government is set to announce it has been cancelled or postponed for the foreseeable future.

Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen

Mr Bridgen said: “I have been sent 85 megabits of statements from whistle-blowers inside HS2 and the Department for Transport, which indicates phase one will be unlikely to carry passengers before the year 2041.”

He said the information suggested the “the current estimated cost of phase one is GBP70 billion” and the total cost of HS2 would be “in excess of GBP160 billion for the whole project” in today’s money. He said: “We are going to need a public inquiry ultimately, to get to the bottom of who was suppressing all this information.” A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “These figures are wrong.

In February last year, this Government reset HS2 and established a realistic budget, strengthened oversight and increased transparency. As part of this, a minister now reports to Parliament every six months on progress, including on costs and schedule.”

It’s widely thought that the HS2 line is to be downgraded, with the eastern leg kicked into the long grass. An announcement could be made alongside Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s autumn budget, due on October 27.

HS2 Ltd has suspended preparatory work on the eastern section, while work on the north west section to Manchester is continuing. And West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, one of the most vocal supporters of HS2, has suggested that he believes admitted in July: “I am realistic that there will probably be a serious delay in the eastern leg of 2b. I believe the Government will still commit to doing it but will not be specific about the timing of when.”

Ministers have been criticised for failing to be clear about the plans and creating unnecessary uncertainty.

Questioned in Parliament this week, Transport Minister Andrew Stephenson said: “We will say more about our thinking in the coming months.”

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References

  1. ^ : Lib Dems debate turning West Midlands into a ‘state’ like Scotland (www.birminghammail.co.uk)
  2. ^ our daily newsletter (www.birminghammail.co.uk)