HS2 in urgent need of clarity, MPs warn

MPs on the influential public accounts committee say that parliament and the public are “still in the dark” about HS2 and urgent clarity is needed over the future of the £55bn high-speed rail project, with “significant uncertainty” being faced by local communities as the government makes up its mind on the future of the scheme.

The latest public accounts committee report says that the government must move quickly to set out a realistic timetable for delivering HS2 and clarify important details about its second phase and plans for the wider rail network.

Committee members recommend that a Department for Transport announcement on the route of phase 2b, due to be made this autumn, should also confirm whether phase 1 - between London Euston and the West Midlands - will open in 2026 or 2027. The committee also said that cost estimates for phase 2 - extending the network between the West Midlands and Crewe (2a), and to Manchester and Leeds (2b) - are still volatile and must be firmed up urgently.

It highlights HS2 Ltd's recommendation to the department that the planned HS2 station in South Yorkshire be moved from Meadowhall to Sheffield Midland station as “one example of the significant uncertainty” that remains about phase 2. 

The committee also says that the impact of these proposed route changes on passengers, local communities, growth and regeneration is not clear and urges the department to explain the basis for its final decision as part of the phase 2b announcement.

On the positive side, the committee acknowledges that “considerable progress” has been made with preparations for HS2 since it reported on the project in 2013 and welcomes the department's commitment to setting out how UK railways will operate as an integrated network. However, uncertainty remains over how HS2 will work with the rest of the transport system, for example how it will interact with proposed transport investment in the north of England.

The report says that “a great deal of work is still required” to integrate plans for HS2 with other rail investment proposals and the existing network. It is also concerned about the financing of the project, saying “greater assurance about sources of funding and finance for regeneration and growth is required to ensure that the promised regional benefits from High Speed 2 materialise.”

Chair of the public accounts committee, Meg Hillier MP, said: “The government has promised significant benefits to taxpayers in return for their investment in HS2, expected to run to more than £55 billion. Despite this, parliament and the public are still in the dark about crucial details – not least when the railway will open, how much it is expected to cost and precisely where it will go.

“The announcement at the weekend that HS2 Ltd chief executive Simon Kirby is leaving the company adds to the uncertainty enveloping a project on which strong and stable leadership is vital. Lack of clarity over plans for HS2 in South Yorkshire highlights what is at stake for communities and local economies, and why government must explain its intentions and the basis for its decisions in a transparent manner.

“The public must be confident the grand vision for HS2 does not blind the government to the finer points which have implications for many people’s lives now and in the decades to come. Similarly, local authorities must know central government’s intentions to ensure they can plan effectively for regeneration and maximise the potential for growth near HS2 stations.

“The government is due to announce its decision on the 2b route this autumn and we urge it to seize this opportunity to address the concerns set out in our Report.”

Click here to read the public accounts committee’s full report.

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If we don't know the route of HS2, there are some very clever people if they can tell us that it is to cost £55 billion. The Government thinks it has a lot on its plate to decide HS2. Be assured that £55 billion is mere pocket spending money compared to contemplating Hinckley C. Who has prepared the impossible ie costs of decommissioning Hinckley C - if the fiasco were ever to be conferred with financial go-ahead? It is to be hoped that the Prime Minister watched the recent TV report about our nuclear facility in Cumbria and was as staggered as I was on the scandalous attitude to safety conveyed by its most senior of its management. Truly, it represented what is staggeringly obvious; Hinckley C MUST NOT PROCEED.