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HS2 could be delayed by a year, warns NAO

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High Speed 2’s timetable is ‘too ambitious’ and the multibillion pound project could be delayed by up to a year, a National Audit Office (NAO) report has warned

The NAO said the project was at risk of missing its phase one deadline of December 2026, with HS2 Ltd only 60 per cent sure it could be delivered on time.

It revealed that the Department for Transport (DfT) has asked HS2 Ltd to assess the impact of extending phase one, which links London to the West Midlands, by 12 months.

But transport minister Robert Goodwill insisted phase one was ‘on track’ to hit to its 2026 deadline.

The £55.7 billion project is also facing cost pressures, with estimates for the £27.4 billion first phase currently exceeding available funding by £204 million, while phase two is exceeding available funding by £7 billion.

NAO director Rebecca Sheeran told the AJ’s sister title Construction News that the ’unrealistic timetable’ from the DfT meant HS2 ’wasn’t as ready as it would hope to be [despite making] significant progress’ over the past three years.

She added that this would ’add to the challenge of delivering what was an already complicated project’.

The findings have been labelled ‘concerning’ by Labour MP Meg Hillier, who is the chair of the public accounts committee.

She said: ’Major decisions would need to be made if HS2 was to deliver all the government has promised.’

The report also revealed that a review had been completed by the Cabinet Office looking at bringing down the costs of phase two by £9 billion.

The report was written ahead of last week’s referendum vote to leave the EU, which has cast its own doubts over a number of infrastructure projects in the UK.

Rail Freight group chairman and Labour peer Lord Berkeley said parts of the line could be scaled back as a result of the uncertainty caused by the referendum result, according the Financial Times.

HS2 chief executive Simon Kirby said: ’The role of the NAO is to challenge projects such as HS2 and through that challenge improve the way they deliver for the taxpayer. This report does this and we accept that challenge.

’As the report says, HS2 remains a highly ambitious project, but as it also demonstrates there are real and substantial grounds why the public, government and parliament should have increased confidence in our ability to deliver the project.

’Our job is to keep earning that confidence going forward.’

Initial proposals for stations at Euston, Old Oak Common, Birmingham Interchange and Curzon Street – which are all in the project’s first phase and due to complete in 2026 – have already been drawn up by Grimshaw, Weston Williamson, Arup and Wilkinson Eyre respectively.

HS2 had been planning a series of competitions for the detailed design of the landmark new stations later this year (see Four HS2 station contests to launch this year).

Comment

Mark Middleton, managing partner at Grimshaw

’I believe the fallout from Brexit will be that HS3 proposal will be shelved. The HS2 phase one tenders will be unaffected although the client might want to take a look at the timing of the phase two tenders.

However we are hopeful all the HS2 work will continue as planned. It’s an important project that is already a long way through the approvals process and see no reason for it to be reconsidered.

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