Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood has been called in to HS2 to mount an investigation into whether it is possible to cut the ever spiralling cost of the project, according to The Guardian. This revelation follows hot on the heels of the news from the Cabinet Office that the position of Chair of HS2 Ltd will soon become a vacancy, though this has been sort of denied by HS2 Ltd.
The appointment of Sir David Higgins as Chair of HS2 Ltd was announced in November 2013, with a clear remit that he had been brought in to cut costs. However, under his tenure the estimated official cost of HS2 has rocketed to £55.7bn, whilst the only thing he has cut are elements of the project such as the proposed links to Heathrow Airport and HS1 at St Pancras Station.
The review from Heywood is a tacit admission that Higgins has failed in his remit to cut costs, and is on top of the Project Review which is due to start and the current National Audit Office investigation, which is their third study into HS2.
Heywood, the head of the civil service has reportedly been brought in to look at which elements of HS2 could be shelved, in part because there is a feeling that the costs of HS2 will continue to rise. This immediately raises a question about the proposed Crewe Station, which although promised by Higgins and Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, is not costed within the £55.7bn estimate.
There are significant concerns along the route that the first thing to be trimmed will be environmental mitigation, such as deep cuttings, tunnels and sound barriers, as well as making compensation harder to get.
The only element of HS2 which could be cut and see a significant reduction in the cost estimate would be the plans for Euston Station, which received a rough time in the House of Lords at the second reading of the HS2 Hybrid Bill. The plans for Euston are currently in the fourth iteration, which is without doubt the worst proposed solution for the station, entailing over 17 years of construction works and an as yet unknown amount of disruption to the West Coast Mainline. It has been suggested that a solution would be for HS2 to terminate at the proposed Old Oak Common Station, but such a proposal would be politically problematic.
Stop HS2 Campaign Manager Joe Rukin said:
“We’ve already seen links to Heathrow and HS1 lopped off in a futile attempt to keep the cost of HS2 down, but it keeps spiralling out of control.”
“The idea that government is looking to see what they can slice off to stop cost escalation is very disturbing to communities and environmentalists, as the very first thing to go will be the already inadequate proposed mitigations, and the only other thing they can do is reduce the already woeful access to compensation.”
“But even if government did that, it would not stop the cost skyrocketing as this project is simply out of control.”
Stop HS2 Chair Penny Gaines added:
“With the Cabinet Secretary looking at HS2 Ltd to see if he can find places to cut costs, and the Cabinet Office accidently publicising the job of HS2 Ltd Chair, its clear someone’s not happy with the way HS2 is going. And there is no surprise there.”
“Announcements about HS2 Phase 2 have been delayed and delayed again. There are huge issues with Euston, and the current plans are that the existing station won’t be redeveloped until at least 2033. And in the House of Lords, the committee to look in detail at the Bill still hasn’t been put in place.”
“It should be remembered that Higgins first job when he was appointed chair of HS2 Ltd in 2013 was to find ways of cutting the cost. Not only did he fail to cut costs then, he actually cut out important parts of the project, such as the link to HS1. And since then the costs of HS2 have continued to go up.”