The new chairman of the HS2 rail project has said he can cut its costs by at least £1.5 billion – by pushing it through the planning process as quickly as possible.
Sir David Higgins, who took over HS2 in January, was asked by the government to review the project for potential cost savings, as the disputed official budget estimates grew to £50 billion.
He is expected to publish his findings in a report on Monday, but the Financial Times has leaked some of his recommendations.
According to the newspaper, Higgins will suggest scrapping the proposed between HS2 and HS1, which runs from London to the Channel Tunnel through Kent.
This section of the proposed route is predicted to run up a bill somewhere in the region of £300m-500m.
The original plans also included a complete regeneration of Euston Station, on a par with the £6 billion revamp of Kings Cross.
Though these plans were downgraded last year as part of a compromise, taking the expected cost to £1.2 billion, Higgins also believes the initial plans can be completed while costs are cut further.
He is expected to tell the government that the refurbishment could be fully paid for with the property development profits from the site.
However, the FT say that the crux of Higgins message to ministers will be to ensure all parties get behind the project and push the two complex bills required to build the line through parliament.
With haste, Higgins will say that the impact of inflation on the budget will be lessened. Critics of the project remain unconvinced, however.
“So far the only thing which seems to have been proposed to cut the costs of HS2 is to make it an even worse plan than it already is, by cutting the link to Europe”, Joe Rukin, campaign manager of the protest group Stop HS2, told Blue & Green Tomorrow.
“The reality is that any talk of cost-cutting is fraudulent in the extreme because HS2 Ltd is still working on 2011 prices. You need three years of inflation to get to today, with two decades of increases before the buffers hit Leeds and Manchester.
“Compound inflation of 19% since 2011 would put the current construction costs at £50.7bn, plus of course the costs of trains which HS2 Ltd always like to miss out.”
He added, “There is only one way to control the spiralling cost of HS2, and that is to scrap this white elephant, right now.”
Supporters have claimed that the north of England will be badly affected if the project does not go ahead. Some MPs have also argued that only HS2 can provide the increased capacity that UK’s rail lines need.
The potentially ballooning cost is just one reason opponents have gathered against HS2. Critics also hold a number of other concerns about its environmental impact.
Campaigners have said that the official environmental impact assessment of the project demonstrates “a shocking disregard” for England’s wildlife.
Opponents have also refuted claims that the rail line will help the UK lower its carbon emissions, referring to a paper by HS2 Ltd itself that says carbon emissions caused by construction of the line will outweigh carbon savings over the first 60 years of operation.