The £43bn High Speed 2 project still faces big obstacles that require immediate action, a high-level report has warned.
The latest annual report by the government-created Major Projects Authority (MPA) gave the controversial scheme an ‘amber/red’ rating, equivalent to 4 out of 5 for risk of failure.
Projects given this rating face “serious challenges” and require “urgent action” if they are to deliver their intended benefits.
The warning comes with the government and industry heavily committed to HS2. A hybrid bill to allow construction of the London-to-Birmingham leg isworking its way through Parliament, while bid teams have formed to compete for £9bn of design and build work on the scheme.
Meanwhile the government also finally published a held-back MPA report from 2012, which revealed the Department for Transport did not believe HS2 was affordable three years ago.
“The Department believes that the costs of this project are so large, and over such a long period, that it will not be able to afford it alongside all its other likely spending commitments,” said the 2012 report, which also gave the scheme an amber/red rating.
Campaigning body Stop HS2 claimed the suspension of some electrification schemes in the Midlands and North West this week was linked to the HS2 project.
Campaign manager Joe Rukin said: “It seems that every six months the MPA says the HS2 project is in doubt, that there are several major risks and that urgent action is needed, but nothing ever seems to happen.
“We have always said that the amount of money the colossal white elephant of HS2 needs would mean cuts to other rail upgrade projects, and now we have been proved right.
“Government is about making choices, and HS2 is not only the wrong choice, but will lead to more projects being shelved as the cost spirals out of control.”
The 2015 MPA report said: “The level of complexity and challenge associated with government major projects means that it is inevitable that some will, at times, be assessed as amber/red or red.
“These assessments signal to ministers and officials that urgent action is needed to make sure that the project will deliver its intended benefits. Moreover, the very largest and most complex projects, such as HS2… typically face significant challenges in the early stages of planning as solutions are developed and put in place.”
A Department of Transport ‘commentary’ included in the 2015 MPA report said: “The High Speed 2 programme remains in a strong position and continues to make significant progress.
“There has been significant progress on building capability in the programme as we transition towards the delivery phase.
“We have made key appointments to senior roles at DfT and HS2 Ltd. DfT and Network Rail and HS2 Ltd have each grown their project teams, bringing in the skills and capability required for the next phase of work.
“The hybrid Bill for Phase One (London-West Midlands) was deposited on time and achieved resounding support at its second reading in April 2014 with a majority of 452 to 41 demonstrating the strong cross party support for the scheme.
“Good progress has been made in hearing petitions and, by March 2015, 344 petitioners had been heard by the Bill Committee and a further 99 petitioners had withdrawn or will not appear on account of agreed changes or assurances received from the Secretary of State, along with 22 who were denied standing by the Committee.
“The target opening date for Phase 1 remains unchanged for 2026.”