Ministers and HS2 bosses knew the high-speed rail project was over budget and probably behind schedule ‘years ago’, according to reports.

The BBC claims it has seen documents written in 2016 – before MPs gave the green light for the first phase of the high-speed rail project – that show HS2 was likely to cost more than originally estimated and would take longer than expected.

According to BBC News, the documents are evidence that the public and Parliament were not given full details about the cost of the project, which is overseen by HS2 Ltd, a taxpayer-funded company.

The Department for Transport (DfT) says it “regularly” updates Parliament and the public on the progress of the project.

The revelation comes after the government announced an independent review into the costs and benefits of HS2, which will result in a “go or no-go” decision on the project by the end of this year.

Until recently, ministers and HS2 bosses have insisted the £56 billion project was on track, with the first phase – a high-speed railway linking London and the West Midlands – due to open by the end of 2026. Work has already begun on that section.

Phase two, which would extend service from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds, was scheduled for completion by 2033.

In June 2016, the National Audit Office said it believed HS2 was already running more than £7 billion over budget, while in February 2017 the Taxpayers’ Alliance said the project’s final cost could reach as high as £90 billion.

A 2016 letter to former chancellor George Osborne by then-transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin seen by BBC News shows the DfT likely knew the first phase of the rail line was already £1 billion over budget, but a former HS2 director told the news outlet this was considered to be “a very conservative estimate”.

Consultancy firm PwC found the estimate for the cost of buying the land and property needed for the line was done in an “ad-hoc manner”.

The BBC says the letter also shows a potential one-year delay in opening phase one, while a DfT briefing note obtained by the broadcaster admits the extended timeline and “a significant gap to target price” even after planned cost savings.

New transport secretary Grant Shapps is expected to give Parliament an update on HS2 next week.

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