The Library published a full briefing on the bill on 15 August 2019, prior to its second reading in the House of Lords. The briefing included an explanation of the hybrid bill process, the provisions of the bill and the proceedings at each stage of its progress through the House of Commons. It also summarised reports on HS2 from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee and the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee. Finally, it described the debates on issues around HS2 including the budget and support for affected communities.
This In Focus article provides a brief update on developments on the bill, and on HS2, since August 2019.
Parliamentary progress of the bill
As referred to above, the bill’s second reading in the House of Lords took place on 9 September 2019. The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport, Baroness Vere of Norbiton, outlined the main features of the phase 2a scheme (described in section 3 of the earlier Library briefing). She argued that it struck an appropriate balance between protecting the environment and giving value for money for the taxpayer.
The Shadow Minister for Transport, Lord Tunnicliffe, said that Labour had initiated the HS2 project, and still supported both HS2 and the bill. However, he said that the railway should be “built as a network rather than a standalone piece of infrastructure”. He also called for an improved scheme of compensation for those affected by the line. The Liberal Democrat spokesperson, Lord Teverson, supported the bill.
Revival after general election
Before Parliament was prorogued on 8 October 2019, the bill was subject to a carry-over motion, allowing it to continue its progress in the following session. When Parliament was dissolved in November 2019 for the general election, no carry-over motion was presented and it fell. However, the House of Commons approved a revival motion on 2 March 2020. This allowed the bill to restart from the position it had reached in the 2017–19 session.
Hybrid bill committee
The bill then entered a hybrid bill committee to consider petitions against the bill by members of the public. The committee received 36 petitions.
The committee published its report on 19 October 2020. It outlined how, in accordance with parliamentary practice, it would not consider applications for significant changes to the bill requiring ‘additional provisions’. This was because such changes require further consultation, with additional delays and expense, and because petitioners had already had the opportunity to make representations during the hybrid bill committee stage in the House of Commons. The committee also rejected suggestions that it should give much more detailed scrutiny to aspects of the design of the scheme. It said it was appropriate for local authorities’ planning processes to fulfil this function.
The committee discussed each of the petitions in turn and described its decision on them. In many cases, it encouraged or instructed HS2 Limited, the company responsible for developing, promoting and building HS2, to work bilaterally with the petitioner(s) to reach an agreement. It noted several instances where this had already occurred. In another case it said that HS2 should pay additional compensation to a resident in exceptional circumstances.
Reviews of the HS2 project
National Audit Office
In January 2020, the National Audit Office (NAO) published its fourth report on HS2. It said that the Government and HS2 Limited had not “fully and openly recognis[ed] the programme’s risks from the outset”, and hence had “not adequately managed the risks to value for money”. It welcomed more recent “increased realism on the estimated cost and schedule for the programme”, but said that “significant risks remain”. It called for a “sustained focus” on the project to ensure that it “is re‑established on a sound basis, balancing cost, time and benefits, and delivered in a way that achieves long-term value for money”.
In August 2019, the Government announced an independent review of whether to proceed with the HS2 project as a whole, and if so how. The review was led by Douglas Oakervee.
The review reported in February 2020. It concluded that the Government should proceed with HS2 in its entirety, stating that building either phase 1 or phase 2 alone would not provide value for money. It said that HS2 should be fully integrated into other transport networks, and that other service improvements in the Midlands and North of England should be delivered before HS2 is complete.
The report argued that cost controls will be important for the future of the project, and that contracts should be re-procured if necessary. It also recommended the Government consider reducing the specifications of the project to save money, for example by reducing the intended number of trains per hour.
It asked the Government to publish a revised business case, with updated costs and benefits.
On phase 2a specifically, the review supported proceeding with the project, but suggested the Government should consider:
- merging the construction of phases 1 and 2a;
- whether costs could be reduced, and the design improved, within the constraints of the existing phase 2a bill; and
- the “size, phasing and contracting model for phase 2a construction contracts”.
Government response and recent developments
On the same day that the Oakervee report was published, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced that the Government would go ahead with HS2 in its entirety. He also said that he was “taking decisive action to restore discipline to the programme”, including appointing a new minister to oversee HS2 (Andrew Stephenson), establishing a ministerial task force and considering where cost savings could be made.
The same day that Government gave formal notice to begin work, it also published an updated full business case for phase 1. It said that “HS2’s great potential for the whole nation continues to outweigh its costs”.
The Government has committed to providing six-monthly updates to Parliament on the progress of HS2. The first of these reports was published on 13 October 2020. Considering cost estimates, it stated that the total “spending envelope” for phase 1, including a £4.3 billion contingency fund, was £44.6 billion. It said this was unchanged from the previous estimate, but that additional costs had been identified that were likely to use up £0.8 billion of the contingency.
The report estimated the cost of phase 2a at between £5 billion and £7 billion, also in line with the previous assessments. It stated that “firmer ranges and a target cost will be confirmed, subject to the scheme being approved by Parliament and based on the scope and undertakings in the act”.
On phase 2b (and hence the overall cost of HS2), the report said that updated costs would be provided, but that “ongoing design work suggests some further pressure on the most recent estimates”. It also noted that the route of phase 2b would depend on the outcome of an “integrated plan for rail in the North and the Midlands”, currently being developed.
Discussing timing, the report said that the target date for the first services to run on phase 1 remained in the range 2029 to 2033. It stated that “schedule ranges for phases 2a and 2b will be established once their scopes are finalised”.
The report said that other actions in the period included:
- reviewing the land and property acquisition programme, the approach to compensation and how HS2 Limited engages with people along the route; and
- beginning to prepare the bill to provide for phase 2b of the scheme.
On 7 October 2020, the Government announced a consultation on several aspects of phase 2b. The consultation is due to close on 11 December 2020.
Image by Michael Gaida from Pixabay.