Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has announced that the Government plan to introduce a ‘Paving Bill’ for HS2 in the Queens Speech in May, meaning they can spend more money on the project quicker. Paving Bills are used to make money available which would not normally be available until Royal Assent for a full bill, leading to speculation that HS2 is already going over budget well before the first sod is turned.
In the case of HS2, the Government has always been working on the premise that a Hybrid Bill for Phase 1 of the project would be submitted in September and complete by the next election in May 2015, with a Hybrid bill for Phase 2 only due to be submitted to Parliament in 2015. However, updated timelines shown to campaigners by HS2 Ltd at recent community forums showed the company is now not expecting the Phase 1 Hybrid Bill to be completed until after the next election. A Paving Bill would secure money to be spent on both Phases 1 and 2, with Rail News claiming it would accelerate plans for Phase 3 to Scotland.
The extra money the Government want is for detailed design work and the letting of contracts for designing the construction of the line, planning the realignment of existing railways and rerouting utilities, and making ecological and geological surveys. None of this expenditure is new or unexpected, suggesting that the plan to spend over a billion pounds on HS2 by 2015 is projected to go over budget.
Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said; “Introducing a Paving Bill will allow Parliament to make a clear commitment to High Speed rail. Crucially, it will also give us the spending powers much sooner that will enable us to get moving on the detailed design work for the scheme. This is an opportunity for all three main political parties to reaffirm their support for High Speed rail and maintain the ambitious programme we have set for HS2.”
This has come in the same week as the Public Accounts Committee reported into the West Coast Mainline franchise disaster, claiming the farce had cost the taxpayer £50m, saying; “Given that the Department got it so wrong over this competition, we must feel concern over how properly it will handle future projects, including HS2 and Thameslink.” The PAC has previously been highly critical of HS2, with Chair Margaret Hodge saying describing evidence given by the Dft as “Potty, Shocking and Bonkers.”
Campaigners have started a new national Government e-petition, calling for the scrapping of plans for a Paving Bill.
Joe Rukin, Stop HS2 Campaign Manager said,
“Every time more people and politicians find out more about HS2 they find that it simply isn’t what it is cracked up to be, so the rush from the Government to get a quick vote on the project before more MPs realise just how bad an idea this is makes complete sense, and we also suspect the Government is desperate to get something on paper suggesting it will be built to Scotland before the independence referendum happens.”
“But the real worry here is that Patrick McLoughlin wants to go to the Treasury, saying that he has already spent all the money allocated for the project on an army of consultants. If it is going to go over the £1bn pre-construction budget, how much is it going to go over the £33bn total budget? Suggesting a paving bill is simply an admission that spending on HS2 is already out of control, years before brick is due to be laid. The Public Accounts Committee has previously said that the lessons from HS1 which has cost the taxpayer £10bn more than expected have not been learned with HS2, and this week have reiterated their concerns following the franchise farce, but Government aren’t listening as they are clearly allowing HS2 costs to get out of control already. There is a real worry that the Government are trying to spend as much as possible, so they can later argue it’s too expensive to cancel.”
Penny Gaines, chair of Stop HS2 said;
“Three years into the HS2 process, the Department for Transport has suddenly decided to add a Paving Bill to the project. It’s clear that this is for politically expedient reasons, as Patrick McLouglin admitted in the House of Commons that there is no Parliamentary time allocated to it. There are huge concerns that the bill is to circumvent the democratic process by pushing through a hastily thrown together act of Parliament. As HS2 will be the largest peacetime infrastructure, it is ridiculous that this £33 billion project is being cobbled together in this way.”