HS2 has been asked by the National Audit Office (NAO) to look at options to push back the opening date of phase one of the route, describing the current timetable as “unrealistic”.
The NAO said that although HS2 had made “good progress” with its procurement programme, the 2026 opening date was “at risk”. The body said it had asked HS2 to look at the impact of delaying the opening by up to 12 months.
The report also raised concerns about the cost of the project. Around £204 million of the estimated £27.4 billion cost of phase one is unaccounted for and at the 2015 Spending Review, the cost of phase 2, from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds, was £7 billion over budget – although £9 billion of savings were subsequently identified by a Cabinet Office-commissioned review.
The government spending watchdog said the combined cost and timetable pressures could ultimately impact on the overall benefit of building the high-speed rail system.
Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “HS2 is a large, complex and ambitious programme which is facing cost and time pressures.
“The unrealistic timetable set for HS2 Ltd by the Department means they are not as ready to deliver as they hoped to be at this point. The department now needs to get the project working to a timescale that is achievable.”
Responding to the report, HS2 said the project was still “on track”.
Simon Kirby, chief executive of HS2, said: “The role of the NAO is to challenge projects such as HS2 and through that challenge improve the way they deliver for the taxpayer. This report does this and we accept that challenge.
“It also, however, recognises the real progress we have made in taking the concept of HS2 and moving it nearer reality.
“As the report says, HS2 remains a highly ambitious project, but as it also demonstrates there are real and substantial grounds why the public, government and parliament should have increased confidence in our ability to deliver the project. Our job is to keep earning that confidence going forward.”