The HS2 high-speed rail project has pressed staff to falsify figures, mislead parliament and cover up “petrifying” overspends, according to a senior manager turned whistleblower.
In documents seen by The Sunday Times, Doug Thornton, HS2’s former head of property, said the organisation put him under “tremendous pressure to accede to an enormous deceit” that the official budget for buying land and buildings was accurate.
It is in fact wrong by billions of pounds, he said, was based on “rudimentary map-based analysis by interns” and contains errors in the tens of millions even on single properties.
One site officially valued by HS2 at £3,800 will end up costing taxpayers £40m — 10,000 times more. Initially assessed as agricultural land, Whittington Heath Golf Club, near Lichfield, must replace its Victorian clubhouse and five of its 18 holes.
At the Hillingdon Outdoor Activities Centre, in west London, which will need a new sailing lake, a payment initially estimated at £6.4m became a legal commitment to pay the owners up to £26.5m. Payments to Camden council for homes and property near Euston are £38m more than budgeted.
HS2 did not dispute the figures.
Thornton, a former director of property development and acquisitions at Tesco, is the first senior whistleblower to emerge from HS2. He was paid more than £200,000 a year and ranked two rungs below the chief executive.
In the documents, he said he was sacked after refusing to “at worst, severely mislead” HS2’s own board about the state of the programme. He described HS2 as “hostile and dysfunctional”.
A few months later, Thornton said, the head of planning and performance, Andrew Bruce, was also placed on leave of absence 30 minutes before he was due to “present major budget, programme and capability issues” to the board.
The two men left in 2016 as the bill to allow HS2’s phase one, from London to the West Midlands, reached a critical stage in parliament. HS2 told MPs and peers that buying the 11,000 properties and plots of land needed to build this section of the route would cost £2.8bn, a figure it maintains to this day.
However, Bruce had produced detailed calculations that the true cost of property in this phase alone would be £4.7bn. Thornton said HS2 may have “knowingly misled parliament”.
HS2 admitted last week that it had already spent £1.6bn on land and property, the vast majority of it for phase one, but had acquired only “around 30%” of what it needed for the first section. However, it stood by the £2.8bn figure. It said Thornton and Bruce had not been sacked for whistleblowing.
The new revelations are contained in letters and reports sent to the cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, the National Audit Office (NAO) and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors between 2016 and March this year.
They will place further pressure on the transport secretary, Chris Grayling, who insisted in April that phase one “remains within” the official budget of £24.3bn. The documents suggest one of Grayling’s senior officials, Thomas Barry, knew of Thornton’s and Bruce’s concerns.
In the documents, Thornton said the “scale of the land and property budget error is petrifying” with “a large proportion of properties . . . not budgeted for”.
Thornton and Bruce are understood to have given extensive oral and written evidence to the NAO, which confirmed last night that it was investigating HS2’s land and property budget as part of a report to be published next month.
Thornton’s documents were passed to Lord Berkeley, a Labour peer and chairman of the Rail Freight Group. He said: “HS2 has been covering up and Grayling knows that the budget is not deliverable.
“I am furious with the way they are trying to bat on with this, knowing it cannot be built for the price. The idea is to get it so far advanced that it’s too late to stop.”
Thornton and Bruce declined to comment. HS2 did not respond to requests for comment on its alleged misleading of its own board and parliament.
The original article, which is in the link below, also includes lots of fascinating readers' comments:
Also in the media this morning (18th June) is another article claiming that the timescale for some aspects of the project have been pushed back, precisely because of cost overruns incurred so far...
High Speed 2 (HS2) civils contractors have been given an extra eight months to adapt their designs to meet target costs, New Civil Engineer can reveal.
New Civil Engineer understands that HS2 bosses have pushed back the notice to proceed (NTP) deadline from November until June 2019.
The additional time has been given to allow the contractors to cut costs on the project, which New Civil Engineer reported last week were currently coming in around £1bn above the target cost.
Full article here:
And from 1st June...
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