In Brief

Report blames Tories for late and over-budget HS2

There are fears that controversial scheme's costs could top £106bn

A report says HS2 is billions of pounds over budget and years behind schedule because of failures by the Conservative government.

As evidence suggests the cost of the controversial rail project could escalate beyond £100bn, the National Audit Office said that the first phase might not open in full until 2036, a decade later than planned.

The report also criticises soaring costs. The original budget of £32.7 billion was revised to £56 billion then rose to £88 billion last year. The Times says there are now fears that the cost could top £106bn.

The NAO accused the Department of Transport and HS2 Ltd, the government-owned company behind the project, of drastically underestimating the complexity of the scheme and drawing up “optimistic” budget estimates.

The Guardian says the report was greeted by Labour as evidence of “woeful” management and will add to the pressure already being heaped on Boris Johnson by Conservative backbenchers to scrap the project and divert the funds to local transport networks.

The prime minister is expected to make a decision within weeks on the future of the scheme. The Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, has recently raised concerns over the project’s viability.

The prime minister is a long-standing critic of the project, which is unpopular among the Conservative Party’s supporters. A YouGov poll in November 2019 found that 28% of Tories “strongly oppose” the project, compared with 17% of Labour voters and 19% of Lib Dem backers.

His chief special adviser, Dominic Cummings, and transport adviser, Andrew Gilligan, are also opposed to the project.

HS2 would connect London, Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Edinburgh and Glasgow with up to 18 trains an hour at a top speed of 225mph if completed.

However, it has been a complex and vexed issue from the start and opponents say the scheme, which has cost some £8bn so far, is too expensive and environmentally damaging.–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––For a round-up of the most important stories from around the world - and a concise, refreshing and balanced take on the week’s news agenda - try The Week magazine. Start your trial subscription today –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

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