Ministers must move quickly to set out a realistic timetable for delivering HS2 and address a lack of clarity over its impact on the transport network and local communities, MPs have said.
In a new report, the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) acknowledges ‘considerable progress’ on the project since it reported on it in 2013 and welcomes the Department for Transport (DfT) commitment to setting out how UK railways will operate as an integrated network.
Parliament and public are 'in the dark' about where the line will go
However, MPs say uncertainty remains over how HS2 will work with the rest of the transport system, including how it will interact with proposed transport investment in the North of England.
The report states that ‘a great deal of work is still required’ to integrate plans for HS2 with other rail investment proposals and the existing network.
It adds: ‘Furthermore, 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.’
Committee chair Meg Hillier said: ‘The Government has promised significant benefits to taxpayers in return for their investment in HS2, expected to run to more than £55bn. 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.
‘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.’
Ms Hiller added that the departure of HS2 Ltd chief executive Simon Kirby ‘adds to the uncertainty enveloping a project on which strong and stable leadership is vital’.
The report recommends that a forthcoming DfT announcement on the route of ‘phase 2b’, should also confirm whether phase 1 will open in 2026 or 2027. MPs said the fact that the DfT and HS2 Ltd are looking at delaying the planned opening date by up to 12 months suggests that the DfT’s timetable for the HS2 is ‘overly ambitious’.
The Committee says costs 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 pointed out that cost estimates for phase 2 currently exceed available funding by £7bn. They say: ‘We remain to be convinced that proposed savings of £9bn can be made without adversely affecting the benefits of the programme.’
According to MPs, the impact of proposed route changes in South Yorkshire on passengers, local communities, growth and regeneration is not clear. The Committee is urging the DfT to explain the basis for its final decision as part of the phase 2b announcement.
A DfT spokesperson said: ‘The Government is fully committed to HS2 and the project is on time and on budget. We are keeping a tough grip on costs, and pressing ahead with plans for Phase Two – with further details due to be announced this Autumn.’
’Improving regional infrastructure is vital in supporting regional growth and building an economy that works for everyone. HS2 is a key part of this, and will be the backbone of our national rail network.’