Internal government briefing admits HS2 delays will increase costs

DfT document appears to undermine ministers’ claims, saying jobs are likely to go and construction firms could be at risk

An internal Department for Transport briefing on the HS2 project has admitted delays to the high-speed railway will increase costs, appearing to undermine ministers’ claims.

The document seen by the Guardian says the decision to delay the project is also likely to cost jobs, put construction firms at risk of going into administration and that the department could face compensation claims.

It also raises the prospect of trains terminating at an outer London station, Old Oak Common, for almost a decade before trains arrive at Euston.

The transport secretary, Mark Harper, announced the delays last Thursday evening and said they were justified in order to “balance the nation’s books”. Huw Merriman, the rail minister, said he apologised for the timing of the statement last week which “I accept was discourteous” to MPs.

Parts of the HS2 line between Birmingham, Crewe and Manchester will be “rephased” by two years, meaning the line to Crewe may not be open until 2036, and Manchester not until 2043. Under the last announced schedule, London-Manchester trains were due to start to run some time between 2035 and 2041.

The internal advice was revealed by Louise Haigh, the shadow transport secretary, during an urgent question on Tuesday, saying it was “time ministers came clean” about the consequences of the decision.

Responding, Merriman said: “Obviously we do not comment on leaked documents or certainly not documents I have not been given at all. It is an entirely responsible government approach to balance the commitments we make and transport commitments total £40bn that have been set out to the house.

“It’s also well within a responsible government’s remit that where there are spending pressures right now due to the help this government has given to those facing increased energy costs … I’m very proud of what we are doing when it comes to delivering HS2.”

Harper said the government remained committed to HS2 trains eventually reaching Euston in central London, but was “prioritising HS2’s initial services between Old Oak Common in London and Birmingham Curzon Street to provide delivery of passenger benefits as soon as possible”.

Transport experts have said trains terminating at Old Oak Common for a prolonged period would put huge pressure on the Elizabeth line and mean there is little time saved in practice for journeys into central London.

Haigh had said it was obvious why the government had announced the changes in a written statement just before the weekend, rather than going to the Commons.

“Ministers ducked and dived from scrutiny – and now we know why. This damaging leak blows apart their key claims to be saving taxpayers’ money,” she said.

“Their plans will hit jobs, harm the north, and cost taxpayers even more – little wonder they refuse to be straight with the British public. Thirteen years of Conservative failure is holding Britain back.”

The document admits there will be “some impacts on jobs and HS2 Ltd will need to consider how best to progress the various phases of the programme”. It says “additional costs will be created by deferring expenditure on the programme”.

In the document’s Q&A format, it asks: “What will the government do about construction companies that go bust because of this announcement?”The document says companies will have to “work through the contractual consequences of this announcement”.

The document says the Manchester leg may not be completed until 2041, with “Euston delivered alongside high-speed infrastructure to Manchester”. Construction at Euston will not be continued “for the next two years … with the site made safe and maintained until construction works continue”. It says design teams on the site will be demobilised.

The Q&A asks: “Is the government breaking its promise of trains going to Stafford, Stoke-on-Trent or Macclesfield?” The department does not offer a guarantee, saying only “that it is continuing to work through the implications of this funding settlement”.


Jessica Elgot Deputy political editor

The GuardianTramp

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