The controversial HS2 project’s first phase is up to five years behind schedule and around £20 billion over budget, according to a report sent to transport minister Grant Shapps.

Shapps has received a report from HS2 Ltd’s newly-appointed chairman Allan Cook just weeks after Shapps announced the launch of an independent review into the high-speed rail link, which will be led by former Crossrail chairman Douglas Oakervee.

In his report, Cook said: “…the budget and target schedule for the programme have proved unrealistic, while at the same time the benefits have been understated.”

Cook’s report suggests the first phase of the project linking London and Birmingham, which was due to open for services in 2026, cannot be delivered until at least 2028, but potentially not until 2031, with a phased opening starting with trains between London Old Oak Common and Birmingham Curzon Street and later to Euston.

That means Phase 2b, a high-speed line to Manchester and Leeds, would not open until between 2035 and 2040.

Cook claimed the delay had occurred because the original plan did not account for the effect of building through more densely-populated areas, and because “ground conditions are significantly more challenging than predicted”.

Furthermore, Cook predicted that the HS2 budget set in 2013 and later updated to £55.7 billion in 2015 prices (£62.4 billion in 2019 prices) cannot be met and has suggested adjusting the budget to £81-£88 billion in 2019 prices.

Commenting on the report, Shapps said: “I want the House to have the full picture. There is no future in obscuring the true costs of a large infrastructure project – as well as the potential benefits.

“I said when I announced the independent review into HS2 that I now want Doug Oakervee and his panel to assess independently these findings from the chairman of HS2 Ltd and other available evidence. That review will provide independent recommendations on whether and how to proceed with the project.”

Last week, documents seen by the BBC suggested ministers and HS2 bosses knew the project was probably behind schedule and over budget ‘years ago’, yet chose not to reveal full details of the situation to Parliament.

Whilst HS2 has faced widespread criticism among both peers and MPs, the government has said work on the project will continue until the Oakervee review is completed and a decision can be made on the future of the railway.

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