The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) says the Government must “move quickly” to set out a “realistic timetable” for delivering High Speed 2 (HS2) and clarify important details about its second phase and impact on the wider rail network.
In the latest Progress with Preparations for High Speed 2 report, the PAC says it is not convinced the timetable for delivering HS2 is realistic.
It recommends that the announcement of the route of Phase 2b - the final section between the Midlands and Leeds - should include a realistic timetable against which to hold HS2 to account. It also says the Department for Transport (DfT) should confirm whether Phase 1 from London to Birmingham will open in 2026 or 2027.
Furthermore, it adds that the DfT does not have a “clear enough picture” of the costs of Phase 2, and that the impact of plans to divert that section of the route into Sheffield Midland (rather than the planned station at Meadowhall) is unclear. It wants the DfT to set out the basis on which the decision was made.
Potential skills shortages in engineering and project management are also a concern. The PAC wants the DfT to report in 12 months’ time on progress in ensuring it can secure the skills it needs to deliver all of its infrastructure projects.
The DfT should also seek assurances from local authorities that plans are in place to identify sources of funding and financing, to secure local regeneration and growth benefits of HS2.
The impact of HS2 on the wider transport system is unclear in places, the PAC concludes, citing the example of how it will interact with proposed investment in the north of England. It recommends the DfT publishes its plan for how the whole rail network will operate when HS2 is built at the same time of the Phase 2 route announcement this autumn.
PAC Chairman Meg Hillier 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. 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.”