HS2 now ‘very poor value for money’ after northern leg scrapped, MPs say

The government’s plan to build HS2 between London and Birmingham will be “very poor value for money” after the northern leg to Manchester was scrapped, according to a report from parliament’s spending watchdog.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which scrutinises government spending, found there are “many uncertainties” in the assessment that it was better to complete Phase 1 of the high speed rail project than cancel the whole thing.

The report stated: “HS2 now offers very poor value for money to the taxpayer, and [the Department for Transport (DfT)] and HS2 Ltd do not yet know what it expects the final benefits of the programme to be.”

Prime minister Rishi Sunak announced the cancellation of the northern leg of the line to Manchester in October, at Conservative Party conference, promising to divert £36 billion into alternative transport schemes known as Network North.

The cross-party committee said many ramifications of the decision remained unknown, with the cancellation of the northern leg of HS2 raising “urgent unanswered questions”.

It said the government does not yet understand how the £67bn high-speed railway will now function

The report added: “Crucially, [DfT] does not yet understand how HS2 will operate as a functioning railway following recent changes.”

Sunak also announced that the final few miles of HS2 into London Euston and the station redevelopment would have to be built with private investment — a solution the committee said they were “highly sceptical” of. 

‘Knee-jerk’ decision to scrap HS2 second leg ‘a mistake’, government’s infrastructure adviser says

The MPs also warned that there were “urgent decisions the department must make” on Euston or it would incur much greater costs from stopping and restarting work.

Meg Hillier, chair of the committee, said: “The decision to cancel HS2’s Northern leg was a watershed moment that raises urgent and unanswered questions, laid out in our report. What happens now to the Phase 2 land, some of which has been compulsorily purchased? 

“Can we seriously be actively working towards a situation where our high-speed trains are forced to run slower than existing ones when they hit older track? Most importantly, how can the Government now ensure that HS2 deliver the best possible value for the taxpayer?

“HS2 is the biggest ticket item by value on the Government’s books for infrastructure projects. As such, it was crying out for a steady hand at the tiller from the start. But, here we are after over a decade of our warnings on HS2’s management and spiralling costs – locked into the costly completion of a curtailed rump of a project with many unanswered questions and risks still attached to delivery of even this curtailed project.”.

A spokesman for HS2 Ltd said: “We’ve been clear about our cost challenges, which have been compounded by significant levels of inflation. HS2 Ltd is now under new leadership and implementing changes across the programme aimed at controlling costs and learning the lessons of the past.”

Politics.co.uk is the UK’s leading digital-only political website, providing comprehensive coverage of UK politics. Subscribe to our daily newsletter here.