The latest Preparation Act expenditure report gives a small, behind-the-scenes glimpse at spending choices in light of alterations to the HS2 scheme and political change.
The finances were reported in accordance with the High-Speed Rail (Preparation) Act 2013, which is designed to allow the secretary of state, with the HM Treasury’s Approval, to spend money in readiness for high-speed projects. This includes on things like land, property schemes and acquisitions.
The results of this spending have to be set out annually, and laid in Parliament. This is to keep politicians and the public informed.
It’s worth bearing in mind then, that the picture we get is a little limited from this report. Once a HS2 phase gets Royal Assent, it tends to fall out of the scope of the Preparation Act for the most part. For example with the Phase One and Phase 2A Acts receiving Royal Assent on 23 February 2017 and 11 February 2021 respectively, expenditure in relation to the compulsory purchase of land or statutory blight cases where land is required for Phase One and Phase 2A now falls outside of the scope of the Preparation Act.
This current report covers 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021.
The powers under the Preparation Act continue to be used for some Phase One expenditure and for preparatory work for Phase 2B. In respect of Phase 2B, the Department for Transport (DfT) deposited the High Speed Rail (Crewe – Manchester) Bill on 24 January 2022.
Total expenditure — for both DfT and HS2 Ltd — under the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Act 2013 for this period was £230.4 million against a budget of £411.6 million, representing an underspend of £181.4 million, or around 44%
Of this total expenditure, HS2 Ltd spent £142.1 million against a budget of £273.3 million, an underspend of £131.3 million or 48%. This was primarily due to delays caused by later than initially anticipated Royal Assent for Phase 2A (because of the general election), resulting in a slowdown of expenditure against forecast, and the pausing of some works on Phase 2B due to the Integrated Rail Plan.
The DfT spent £88.3 million on the acquisition of land and property and associated property schemes against a budget of £138.3 million, an underspend of £50.1 million or 36%.
Uncertainty resulted in less spending
HS2 paused pre-construction works around “various preparatory activities” on Phase 2B, which led to a substantial reduction in spending against the previously planned areas in several aspects, most notably in design, corporate support, and project management.
The general election held on 12 December 2019, which as noted earlier delayed the Royal Assent for Phase 2A, resulted in lower spending on design, project management, and corporate support activities.
Underspends occurring under enabling works, and surveying and ground investigation activities were caused by a revised payment schedule for an electricity distribution network operator, delayed mobilisation and reduced access to construction sites. The access to the sites was reduced through delays to Royal Assent, necessitating the use of the existing limited access licences.
- On design, HS2 used the Preparation Act spending to pay for £63.8 million worth of work
- On surveying and ground installations, £9 million was spent
- On enabling (including archaeology, site clearance and setting up construction compounds), £6.5 million was needed
- On project management, £18.4 million was spent
- Corporate support (including finance and corporate services, procurement and accommodation) cost £44.3 million
- Land and property (some expenditure relating to the statutory purchase of land and property continues to be made using the Preparation Act powers, where the Phase 1 Act does not apply) saw an expenditure of £88.3 million