Delays linking up HS2 and Euston will mean extra costs and potentially even higher spending, the public spending watchdog has warned.
A near-50 page report by the National Audit Office (NAO), examining Euston and the much-delayed high-speed line, concluded that a “reset” in 2020 was unsuccessful.
It found that by the end of December last year HS2 Ltd had spent more than £2bn on the HS2 Euston station and its approaches, covering design, land and preparation works.
The government is said be “prioritising” the initial services between Old Oak Common in west London’s suburbs and Birmingham Curzon Street.
But Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove could not confirm on Sunday that the tracks linking Old Oak Common and Euston station would ever be built and refused to guarantee that HS2 will terminate at Euston.
“There is a debate about whether or not it should be Old Oak Common or Euston,” he told Channel 4’s The Andrew Neil Show.
Mr Gove added: “Old Oak Common is going to be a major area for regeneration but we want to make sure as many people as possible can benefit not just from the additional rail infrastructure but also from the regeneration that HS2 can bring.
“So the Old Oak Common area is a part of northwest London that requires levelling up.”
After being asked if HS2 would go to Euston, the cabinet minister replied: “I don’t know what the final decision will be about where the terminus will be.”
What is HS2?
HS2 is a planned high-speed rail network which was initially intended to link London and the West Midlands, with a further phase extending to cities in the North.
The Labour government first raised it in 2009.
The project has faced many delays and rising costs, and a full network may not be ready till 2040.
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The upcoming changes are set to see services not stopping in Euston for years to come, with passengers expected to travel for half an hour on the Elizabeth Line instead.
The NAO has warned that while the postponement may allow the Department for Transport (DfT) to move the Euston end of the project to a “more stable footing”, the cost of spending will increase and lead “to additional costs and potentially to higher spend overall for the project”.
The latest estimate by HS2 Ltd set the cost for the 10-year platform design at Euston at £4.8bn, more than £2bn over-budget.
‘Recent high inflation has added to the challenge’
Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said: “Government is once again having to revise plans for Euston HS2. Clearly, the 2020 reset of the station design has not succeeded.”
Mr Davies also criticised DfT and HS2 and said that they have not been able to develop “an affordable scope that is integrated with other activity at Euston, despite their focus on costs and governance since 2020”.
“Recent high inflation has added to the challenge,” he added.
A DfT spokesperson said the department remained committed to delivering HS2 from Euston to Manchester “in a way that delivers the best value for money to the taxpayer”.
They added: “That’s why we recently announced we will re-phase the Euston section of the project to manage inflationary pressures and work on an affordable design for the station.
“We will carefully consider the recommendations set out by the National Audit Office and will formally respond in due course.”