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HS2 Rail scheme 'facing cost and time pressures' with 'unrealistic timetable'

The High Speed 2 rail project is under financial strain and could be delayed by a year, the Whitehall spending watchdog said.

Credit: PA

The National Audit Office (NAO) warned that the 2026 target date for opening phase one between London and the West Midlands is "at risk".

It revealed that the Department for Transport (DfT) has asked the company responsible for building the railway, HS2 Ltd, to assess the impact of extending its timetable by up to 12 months.

The DfT has also called on the firm to revisit its schedule in a bid to increase its confidence of completing phase one on time from 60% to 80% without increasing costs.

Cost forecasts for phase one exceed available funding by £204 million, while phase two - taking the line to north-east and north-west England - contains some elements that are "currently unfunded", the report said.

HS2 is a large, complex and ambitious programme which is facing cost and time pressures. The unrealistic timetable set for HS2 Ltd by the Department means they are not as ready to deliver as they hoped to be at this point. The Department now needs to get the project working to a timescale that is achievable.

– Head of the NAO, Sir Amyas Morse

Today's NAO report shows that preparations to deliver High Speed 2 are under severe strain.

The Department for Transport has, yet again, set unrealistic timetables for delivering this programme and HS2 Ltd is only 60% confident that it will complete phase 1 by December 2026.

– Meg Hillier, chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee

But Transport Minister Robert Goodwill insisted that HS2 is "on track" despite the NAO warning that the £55.7 billion railway is facing financial pressures.

We have strong cross party support and are on schedule to gain the powers needed to start building HS2, which the NAO acknowledges is a significant achievement.

We are on course to start construction next year and complete the scheme on time and budget.

– Transport Minister Robert Goodwill

Construction Commissioner wanted for HS2

HS2 model Credit: PA

With building work scheduled to start in 2017 on the London to West Midlands leg of HS2, a commissioner is being recruited to impartially investigate any issues that arise during construction of this much-needed new infrastructure project.

HS2 is said to bring huge benefits for the country, freeing up capacity on the network, improving connections between the biggest cities, and helping to boost and re-balance the economy.

This new role will ensure that any unresolved complaints are investigated and mediated fairly.

We want to be a good neighbour throughout the time we build this vital new rail network.

A Code of Construction Practice will also be put in place as we look to minimise disruption to local residents and businesses.

But if there are any problems we want people to be reassured that there is an independent commissioner they can look to for additional help.

– Jim Crawford, HS2 Ltd’s Managing Director, Construction
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