The Major Projects Authority [MPA], who have previously rated the HS2 project as ‘amber-red’, have 75 ‘complex questions’ which they want HS2 Ltd to address, according Sir David Higgins, the Chair of HS2 Ltd. In evidence to the House of Commons Governance Committee on November 26th, Higgins also hinted that the start date for constructing HS2, which is currently 2017, might be pushed back.
In his evidence, Higgins told the committee he had a relaxed attitude to the construction timetable, saying:
“We do not have to start in 2017; quite the contrary. You can build it quicker than any current programme suggests if you know exactly why you are doing it, why you are going to a certain city and not another one, and the purpose of the brief. That would be my recommendation.”
When asked by Dave Watts MP about the delivery of projects on time and on budget, Higgins responded:
“I have got a review underway at the moment at High Speed 2 by the Major Projects Association [HS2 Ltd have clarified that he meant to say ‘Authority’]. I had a meeting with them yesterday and the initial report said, ‘There are 75 different complex questions that we have been asked to address.’ I said, ‘There are probably only 10 things today on this project that you need to understand and take judgement on, to see whether we are on track or not.’ The key is to identify what those 10 things are, setting the options out and taking them to the key politicians and decision makers and saying, ‘These are the options’.”
In June, permission was granted to the Information Commissioner to proceed with a Judicial Review of the Government decision to veto the publication of a report from the MPA into HS2 which showed the project was in danger of failing. However, this case has been stalled awaiting the outcome of a Supreme Court case, heard last month, concerning the blocking of publication of letters from Prince Charles to cabinet ministers.
Stop HS2 Campaign Manager Joe Rukin responded:
“We are constantly being told that there is nothing wrong with the HS2 project, but when the Chair is admitting the Major Projects Authority have 75 complex questions, which after five years of planning still need to be addressed, very loud alarm bells should be ringing. Worse is the attitude from HS2 Ltd, whereby they get told there are 75 issues, and then their Chair dismisses this, and tells them there are only 10 things they should be bothered about! This has been the problem throughout the piece, that whenever anyone says anything is going wrong with HS2, their opinion is dismissed out of hand.”
“It is a disgrace that all the reports from the MPA on HS2 have been kept secret, even from the MPs who were asked to vote for it. The fact that still now they have 75 complex questions which need answering shows all is not right with HS2 and the Government should publish these reports and let MPs and the public at large see what the problems are, before more taxpayers money is wasted on this white elephant.”
“It is also a worry that Higgins is saying there is no worry in delaying the start of HS2 construction, citing his involvement in the Olympics as an example of why this is no problem, despite the fact that came in four times over the original budget. The timetable for HS2 has continually been pushed back, and it seems he is preparing the ground for this to happen again.”
Penny Gaines, chair of stop HS2 added;
“David Higgins has claimed that HS2 is not getting delayed. But comments like these to MPs paint a different picture, of a project which is slipping further and further behind schedule. For Higgins himself it might be a problem, especially if he is already planning to depart from the project next year. But the country is already spending hundreds of millions of pounds each year on HS2.”
“Along with the concerns of the Major Projects Authority it is clear that HS2 is a project with real problems. The Government still refuse to publish the MPA report on HS2 from three years ago. With secrecy like this they are hiding the truth about this white elephant of the project. We say it is time to rethink the project, cancel HS2 and save the country £50 billion.”
The committee evidence can be found at http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/house-of-commons-governance-committee/house-of-commons-governance/oral/15792.pdf The relevant question numbers are 573 & 577.