HS2 ‘pause’ designed to save money is costing the taxpayer more than £360m, leaked govt briefing reveals

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Delays to HS2 announced by the government earlier this year in order to help ‘balance the books’ are likely to cost the taxpayer at least £366 million, according to new analysis exclusively leaked to Sky News.

The government briefing also predicts the two-year pause to construction work on a key section is actually set to last 3.5 years – because of the additional time needed to ramp up the work.

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.

Back in March the Department for Transport said work on the crucial leg between Birmingham and Crewe – which is then due to continue to Manchester – would have to be put on hold because of the impact of inflation.

And in April the Transport Secretary confirmed that work has also been stopped for two years at London’s Euston station.

Since construction began there six years ago, hundreds of homes and businesses have been demolished – but now the huge building site is virtually empty.

Read more: Euston HS2 delays would mean extra costs and higher spending, watchdog warns

Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh MP said: “The chaotic indecision and mismanagement of 13 years of HS2 has held back £30 billion of economic growth. It’s left an abandoned building site here in Euston…and it’s holding back economies in the north as well.

“It’s costing taxpayers another £400 million on top of the many, many wasted millions that the Tories have already spent….There really is no argument for delaying any further.”

The Department for Transport said the government was committed to delivering HS2 services to Euston, but the decision to pause construction was taken to “reduce expenditure…. and to develop a more affordable design”.

Handout photo dated August 2022 issued by HS2 of a aerial view of the HS2 Euston station construction site in London.
The HS2 construction site at Euston

Over the years the overall projected cost of HS2 has shot up from £38bn to more than £71bn.

The promised new trains will travel at speeds of up to 225mph – which means journey times between London and Birmingham are set to reduce from 70 to 38 minutes, and from London to Manchester from two hours seven minutes to one hour seven minutes.

But the latest delays mean high speed trains won’t reach Manchester until at least 2040.

For Henri Murison, Chief Executive of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, it’s vital to deliver HS2 as quickly as possible. “The lack of connectivity of the north of England, whether it’s east – west or north – south, is holding back our productivity,” he said.

“It is the reason why we see this huge gap between London and the rest of our cities and the ability of our northern cities to raise the living standards of people who live in our places.”

The Department for Transport said: “Large infrastructure projects have to be funded sustainably. Over the next two years, spending will remain within the annual budgets and some stages of the project will be re-phased to ensure they are delivered in the most cost-effective way for taxpayers, as the government set out to Parliament in March.”

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