HS2 affordability and manageability ‘under review’
In November 2013 the government announced that David Higgins would become chairman of HS2 Ltd, and would ‘drive down’ the costs of the project. But Mr Higgins completely failed to drive down costs, and his future at HS2 is uncertain. In an April 2016 jobs bulletin, the government announced the chairmanship of HS2 as a ‘forthcoming opportunity’.
Britain’s most senior civil servant, Sir Jeremy Heywood, has been reviewing HS2 since March 2016 as fears grow that it cannot be built within its £55bn budget, The Guardian reported.
[Top UK civil servant reviews HS2 project, Mark Leftly, The Guardian, 2 May 2016]
Heywood, the cabinet secretary and head of the civil service, has been quietly investigating HS2 in an effort to cut costly elements. He is expected to report to ministers by the summer. Campaigners opposed to the project believe this could lead to less compensation for businesses and homeowners whose properties are affected by construction.
[…] There was an increase of nearly £10bn in 2013 and recently a £5bn increase to reflect inflation.
Officials and ministers are increasingly concerned that the budget could still be exceeded, even though links to the Channel Tunnel rail link (HS1) and Heathrow airport have previously been removed to cut costs. Heywood has been undertaking the review as part of work led by the government’s newly formed Infrastructure and Projects Authority.
A source close to HS2 said: “From what I understand, Sir Jeremy doesn’t give a stuff about the timetable, it’s about costs and what we can cut out to make it cheaper.”
A senior rail source said: “[…] There are things that can be cut, like engineering work north of Birmingham that becomes redundant when a link to Crewe is built in 2027.
[…] Heywood’s review has been one of the causes of a second delay to another piece of Cabinet Office work, review point one [RP1], which will evaluate whether the 1,300-person team behind the project, HS2 Ltd, is fit to manage it.
‘Engineering work north of Birmingham’ presumably refers to HS2’s connection to the classic line at Handsacre. In October 2014, transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin told the Express & Star that ‘Stafford and Staffordshire would benefit from the connection between the West Coast Main Line and HS2 at Handsacre’. Deleting the link would be unlikely to have much impact on the overall cost of HS2.
The best way to ‘save money on HS2’, would be ‘not to build HS2’. In Germany, most of the high speed network is based on existing track, and future services will run at 249 km/h, or less. Lower speed means dramatically reduced energy consumption, and lower wear and tear on rolling stock, track and overhead lines.