On Monday 6 April 2016, senior High Speed 2 official Andrew Bruce says he was set to reveal an uncomfortable truth to leading figures at the Department for Transport and HS2 itself.
The notion that HS2 could not be delivered within its £55.7bn budget had the potential to derail the scheme, months before a crucial vote in Parliament.
After a detailed analysis of vast amounts of data, the decorated former army colonel believed the cost to the taxpayer, of the land and property needed to build the railway between London and Birmingham, was much higher than HS2’s official estimate at the time of £2.8bn.
However, Mr Bruce’s presentation never happened. About half an hour before he says he was due to deliver it at a board meeting, he was fired.
He was motivated by the stark inaccuracy of the estimate, which was being used for all the land and property needed for the first stretch of the railway.
But that early property cost estimate only related to around 5,500 properties or plots of land for Phase One, when in reality HS2 needed to buy about 11,420 by compulsory purchase.
In effect, half of the plots or properties required had a value of zero. On top of that around 1,600 had a token value under £1,000.
“I was seeing blocks of flats in central London for £500,” says Mr Bruce. “Houses and gardens in Euston for £600. It went on for page, after page, after page.”
The former military man from Fife, who previously managed vast programmes for the British army in both Iraq and Afghanistan, says he worked around the clock for weeks to improve the data.
He says he insisted he needed to give the presentation, but he was not allowed.
In a matter of minutes after his sacking, he had been escorted from the building.
The £2.8bn figure was part of HS2’s overall submission to Parliament for Phase One, which was voted through by a massive majority of MPs in February 2017.
But Mr Bruce believes Parliament was “misled”.
“The true cost was absolutely covered up.”
HS2 is owned and ruled by the government.
The NAO’s report, published last September, said at the time Parliament did not “require” HS2 to update and improve its estimate.
Mr Bruce described that finding as “disgraceful” and said the report was a “whitewash”.
The company said a decision to revise the estimate had already been taken while Mr Bruce was still working at HS2.
However, it has not explained why the unrevised, £2.8bn estimate was still submitted to Parliament.
Footnote from Editor:
Maybe HS2 is not all bad for Scotland anyway? See this from the usually unreliable Daily Mail:
- Scots to get extra £5bn for HS2: English taxpayers will be forced to pay ‘compensation’ even though journey times to London will be half an hour shorter
- Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are compensated for projects that only affect England
- Scotland and Northern Ireland will share an estimated £7.4billion between them
- Campaigners say this will increase the total HS2 bill to £63.1billion
What, we get £5 billion from English taxpayers on top of the millions from Dutch taxpayers to run Scotrail? Cool!