The news that HS2 is already over budget has come to no surprise to campaigners against the project, just a fortnight after Secretary of State Patrick McLouglin announced plans for a ‘Paving Bill’ to be introduced in Parliament this year, which has the sole purpose of releasing more money for the project.
While there are many issues indicating alarming overspends, the worst example is the seemingly blank cheque awarded to consultancy firm Atkins. Fresh from their involvement in the West Coast Mainline fiasco, which cost the taxpayer £50m, the company had already overspent their 18 month budget for design work in just 9 months. At the end of April 2012 they were awarded a £13.3m contract, which was set to conclude in the deposition of the Stage 1 Hybrid Bill in October 2013. However, by January 2013, they had already spent £14m. Design contracts awarded so far are simply for preliminary design work, as detailed design for Stage 1 would not happen until 2016, after the Hybrid Bill is due to be passed, and it seems that other contracts awarded last year have similar overspends.
ARUP, who are sponsors (patrons) of pro-HS2 lobbyists Leeds and Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, have been awarded several contracts to develop HS2 since the outset prior to the 2010 announcement. In March 2012, they were awarded a £10m contract to redevelop Euston station, which they have already been paid £10.1m for. The redevelopment, which would require the complete demolition and rebuilding of the station over a period of eight years was described at the time by HS2 Ltd Chief Engineer Andrew McNaughton as “The biggest development London will ever have seen.” at a size of “Seventeen times the size of the Emirates Stadium”, has now it seems been scrapped. In a meeting with Sarah Hayward, the leader of Camden Council and Frank Dobson MP, HS2 Ltd have reportedly said they are now looking at a “cheaper and less disruptive option”, after cost estimates for this part of the project have come in at 30-40% over the original plan.
Councillor Hayward said: “We have seen the new designs. HS2 has asked us not to comment and we are concerned that if we speak about this it will impact on our discussions with them on housing. But I urge HS2 to come clean.”
Addtionally, as reported by the Independent of Sunday, HS2 Ltds IT is suffering from “teething problems”, following the decision to pay £16.8m to Fujitsu for the HS2 system, following their sacking for non-performance in 2008 after their botched £896m contract to upgrade NHS systems.
In total, £253m has already been spent on the HS2 project so far, four years before construction is due to start.
Penny Gaines, chair of Stop HS2 said: “There is mounting evidence that costs will escalate beyond the £33bn budget. They’ve cancelled the next round of community forums, much to the disgust of communities who are being blighted. They’ve dropped the spur to Heathrow from the HS2 plans, without dropping the budget.”
Joe Rukin, Stop HS2 Campaign Manager said:
“HS2 Ltd have clearly demonstrated that their budgets have no credibility and they are simply writing blank cheques with taxpayers money to the very consultancy firms who have lobbied to convince Governments that this insane plan was needed, but politicians have shown that they will never learn and don’t seem to care. The HS2 project has to be stopped before it gets too far out of control, and hopefully the Judicial Review verdicts of Friday will go some way to that.”