Business groups have said they remain broadly supportive of HS2 despite the admission from its chairman that the costs of the project could spiral by as much as £30bn.
Over the weekend it emerged that Allan Cook had written to Bernadette Kelly, permanent secretary at the Department for Transport (DfT), to warn that the railway, which will link London to the north, is unlikely to be completed under its official budget of £56bn, and could instead end up costing between £70bn-£85bn.
The admission, reported by the Financial Times, is likely to add to calls to scrap the scheme, whose future is already hanging in the balance.
Boris Johnson, who is expected to be confirmed as Britain’s next Prime Minister tomorrow, has appointed former HS2 chairman Douglas Oakervee to carry out a review of the project amid concerns over mounting costs.
The Confederation of British Industry has already said it will participate in any review and hinted it would not support the project at all costs.
Tom Thackray, its infrastructure director, said: “Taxpayers’ money should always be spent wisely. HS2 must continue to strive to reduce costs and stay on target.
“But we mustn’t overlook the benefits of HS2 for rail capacity, job creation and extending economic growth across the Midlands, the north and Scotland.”
Claire Walker, co-executive director of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “There is a strong business case for HS2, which the BCC fully supports. Business communities do not want any further delays to the project. The new Prime Minister and government must reaffirm its commitment to the delivery of HS2.”
An HS2 Ltd spokesperson said: “We have previously noted that our chair, as you would expect, continues to scrutinise the programme, and regularly reports back to the Department. We are determined to deliver a railway that rebalances the economy, creates jobs, boosts economic growth and is value for money for taxpayers.”
A DfT spokesperson said a review by the chairman into the project schedule and cost was ongoing. “We expect Allan Cook to provide his final assessment in due course,” they added.