‘Floundering’ HS2 Euston project could rise in costs without a clear plan, MPs warn
Image credit: PA Media
MPs have urged the Department for Transport (DfT) to “finally establish” its expectations for the Euston station project, which has already been delayed two years due to "wildly unrealistic" budgeting.
In its latest report, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has blamed the delays incurred in the building of the London Euston HS2 station on government indecision.
"Despite spending over eight years on planning and designing the HS2 Euston station, the department still does not know what it is trying to achieve with the station," the MPs said.
HS2 was given the go ahead in 2020 despite a decade of sharply rising costs and repeated delays to the original project timeframe. However, earlier this year, work at the line's Euston station was paused due to inflationary pressures coupled with the UK’s struggling finances.
The DfT said it remained "committed to delivering HS2 in the most cost-effective way".
The cost of building the Euston station of the HS2 line was originally predicted to reach £2.6bn. This estimate was described by MPs as “completely unrealistic”, an assessment supported by the fact that the estimated cost of the station recently rose to £4.8bn.
In their report, the PAC warned the costs could further increase if the government fails to commit to “establish the design and expectations for the station” against what it was “willing to spend”, taking into account rising inflation rates and increases in the cost of new materials.
“The HS2 Euston project is floundering," said the PAC's chair, Dame Meg Hillier. "This is a multibillion-pound scheme which has already caused major disruption to the local community put on pause.
“The pause, ostensibly to save money, is not cost-free... The government must now be clear what it is trying to achieve with this new station, and how it will benefit the public.
“Our report finds that a wildly unrealistic budget for HS2 Euston was set in 2020 in the expectation that it would be revised. The government must demonstrate that it is not just repeating the same mistakes of unrealistic costings.”
The committee also questioned the accuracy of ministers’ six-monthly updates to Parliament and asked the DfT to provide greater transparency in its calculations.
HS2 is a central part of the government's levelling up agenda, designed to improve rail connections between cities in the Midlands and the North with London. Construction on HS2 finally began in September 2020, with the government claiming that the railway line would be “still going strong” in 150 years.
However, since the project began residents in the Euston area have suffered large-scale disruptions, including widespread house demolitions and the loss of parks, trees and established businesses in the area.
Following the PAC's report, the DfT has said it will use the two-year period to determine its priorities and minimum requirements for the station.
“We remain committed to delivering HS2 from Euston to Manchester in the most cost-effective way for taxpayers, which is why earlier this year we made the decision to rephase the construction of Euston to help balance the nation’s books and work on an affordable design for the station," said a DfT spokeswoman.
“The National Audit Office recently acknowledged this will provide time to put the station design on a more stable footing and we continue to work at pace to ensure the transformational benefits of HS2 are delivered to passengers by better connecting our biggest cities, supporting thousands of jobs and helping grow the economy.
“We note the recommendations made in the committee’s report and will respond to them in due course.”
HS2 trains were originally scheduled to run in 2026, but they are now not expected to run into Euston until 2041 at the earliest.
Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.