The cost of the Tory government’s biggest vanity project is officially spiralling out of control

Theresa May Budget Tax
Steve Topple

The cost of one of Theresa May’s government’s most high-profile schemes has now officially spiraled out-of-control. And it’s not the Labour Party that has said that the project will now cost a staggering £400m per mile. But a report [paywall] commissioned by the Conservative government itself.

Eye-watering figures

The Department for Transport (DfT) asked [paywall] rail expert Michael Byng to work out the cost of HS2. But only after he was commissioned by the Rail Delivery Group to work out how much money was needed for the section of the railway from its terminus at Euston to Old Oak Common in West London.

Byng said that the cost of that particular section would be £8.25bn. And when the DfT found this out, Byng said he got a phone call from the department, asking [paywall] him:

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Look, if 6.6 miles is going to cost us £8.25bn, what chance have we got of getting to Birmingham?

He then worked out the figures. And he found [paywall] that:

  • HS2 first phase from London to Birmingham would cost almost £48bn.
  • The entire project would cost £104bn.

This is double the government’s official cost, which is £52bn. And it is 15 times more expensive than the HS2 equivalent in France, the TGV.

That good ole’ magic money tree

Byng told [paywall] The Sunday Times that HS2 was proving so expensive because:

We live in a very heavily populated, property-owning democracy which has very high use of railways, so land is very expensive and disruption is very expensive. People have rights and are prepared to stand up for them. The railways have also inherited the malaise of British construction — an inflation of consultants. In the rest of the world soft costs, such as consultancy and planning, make up 12-15%. Here it can be as high as 35%.

HS2 has been marred by controversy since the idea was officially first floated by Labour in 2009. Critics argue that HS2 will cost too much; that people will be forced to watch their homes demolished; that it is bad for the environment; that the money could be better spent elsewhere and that the line out of Euston is not the one that needs upgrading, anyway.

Joe Rukin, from the Stop HS2 campaign, said [paywall]:

HS2 is a massive waste of money and the bill is only going to increase. It’s amazing, given the pressure on the public purse, that anyone still thinks this is a good idea.

HS2: running out of track?

But the DfT and the government are unconcerned. The former said[paywall]:

We are keeping a tough grip on costs and the project is on time and on budget.

Byng reckons [paywall] that HS2 “is certainly the most expensive railway in the world”. But could the money be better spent elsewhere? At a time when the NHS and social care are underfunded, public sector staff are being denied a pay rise, education budgets are being cut and disabled people are having their human rights “gravely” and “systematically” violated – many would argue that yes, it could and should be better spent.

And these latest revelations about the cost of HS2 will only add fuel to the fire of those that say the project is quickly running out of track.

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