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HS2 costs surge during pandemic: Controversy continues to surround UK’s biggest infrastructure project

The biggest infrastructure project in the UK has seen costs surge by a further £1.7bn ($2.1bn) since the pandemic began. Covid related delays and reduced productivity have increased costs. This adds to the already inflated budget of approximately £106bn ($135bn).

As the pandemic hit back in March 2020, work was temporarily suspended at most of the project’s sites. Added to this, social distancing measures have caused further delays and a reduction in productivity. This has led to spiraling costs. While cost increases have been estimated at £1.7bn ($2.1bn), a contractor close to the project has reportedly stated that the exact amount Covid has added still remains unknown.

Even before construction began on HS2, it attracted a huge amount or controversy and criticism. Aside from the environmental concerns that have been raised, the cost of the project has particularly come under the spotlight. HS2 was originally priced at £32.7bn ($41.9bn), but in 2013 this estimate was revised up for the first time by £10bn ($12.8bn). At the time, the Department for Transport stated that it would not necessarily need to use all of the £42.7bn ($54.7bn) budget. Since then, costs have steadily risen. A government-commissioned review in 2019 estimated that the final outlay for HS2 could reach a staggering £106bn, over three times the original budget. With the recent revelation that pandemic related costs have added a further £1.7bn, it remains to be seen how high the true cost of HS2 will reach.

COVID-19 has created a complicated scenario where the economy needs HS2 to aid recovery, but at the same time there is no longer the same necessity for a high-speed rail network. The government and supporters of HS2 have been vocal about the economic benefits that the infrastructure project will bring. Such claims come even in the face of escalating costs. Given the fact that COVID-19 has placed the UK economy into recession, economic benefits for the country are of vital importance. However, the pandemic has also reduced the need for a high-speed rail network. Covid has changed the way people work, with remote working becoming the new normal. The effectiveness of carrying out meetings via platforms such as Zoom has reduced the need to travel for face-to-face meetings. While supporters of HS2 have heralded the link it will create between the North and the South, the pandemic has essentially rendered this irrelevant.

As costs continue to climb, controversy surrounding HS2 will only mount further in post-pandemic times.