UK Government warned HS2 may never be resurrected after cost-saving delays
HS2 is at risk of being “dismembered” and never resurrected after further delays were announced by the Government, peers have heard.
Cost-saving measures mean the construction of the Birmingham to Crewe leg of HS2 will be delayed by two years and services of the high speed rail line may not enter central London until the 2040s.
The Government was criticised in the House of Lords for the decision and warned the project could struggle to recover.
Conservative whip Lord Davies of Gower, speaking on behalf of the Government, accepted the move was “disappointing” and would cause difficulties in the supply chain for contractors.
He said: “In the current economic climate the Government is taking an honest and very pragmatic view and we have to realise the circumstances we find ourselves in.”
But Conservative peer Lord Moylan, a former deputy chairman of Transport for London, said: “Will (Lord Davies) accept that the claim that phasing the work over a longer period is going to save money will be met with some incredulity by those with experience of the management of large projects?
“And teams are dispersed, engineering expertise is sent elsewhere, isn’t it really the case that the project is being dismembered and may never now be resurrected or at least it will be a wholly new project if it ever is?”
Lord Davies replied: “No, I don’t accept the premise that it’s being dismembered.
“It’s a question of pragmatism and a question of the economic situation that we find ourselves in at the moment. The Government is taking a reasoned view to deal with it.”
The high-speed line was due for extension between Birmingham and Crewe between 2030 and 2034 to help boost transport in the north of England.
But the Government says it is now “prioritising” the initial services between Old Oak Common in west London’s suburbs and Birmingham Curzon Street by 2033.
It means services will not stop in Euston in central London for years to come, with passengers expected instead travel for half an hour on the Elizabeth Line.
Labour’s Lord Snape questioned why people would undertake this route, adding: “This announcement makes us the laughing stock of the railway world.”
Viscount Stansgate, another Labour peer, sought reassurances that HS2 will reach Euston “in the form in which it was originally intended to do so” and not stop at Old Oak Common.
Lord Davies replied: “I can. The Government is committed to delivering to Euston and it is currently evaluating how best to deliver it.”
Labour’s Lord Kennedy of Southwark said: “Has he seen comments from the National Infrastructure Commission, headed by Sir John Armitt, from John Smith from GB Railfreight, and Henri Murison from the Northern Powerhouse, who described the decision as half-baked, disappointing and a false economy?”
Lord Davies responded: “I accept that it is disappointing and we have had difficulties with the supply chain, there are difficulties now going forward for contractors, I fully accept that, but no I haven’t seen those comments but I’m not surprised that they have been made.”
Labour’s Lord Liddle said the north of England is being “deprived”, adding: “This is the end of the Conservative’s ambitions to hold on to the red wall.”
Lord Davies, in his reply, said: “No, I don’t accept that.”
A budget of £55.7 billion for the whole of HS2 was set in 2015.
But the target cost excluding the eastern leg of Phase 2b from the West Midlands to the East Midlands has ballooned to between £53 billion and £71 billion (in 2019 prices).
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