In October 2023, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak cancelled the Birmingham to Manchester leg of High Speed 2, saying the costs had become too high.
HS2 has constantly been plagued by reviews, cost overruns, delays, downgrades, and cancellations since it was first proposed in 2009 and then given the green light in 2012.
Many of the challenges faced by the HS2 project aren’t new and aren’t limited to the UK.
Questions have emerged which bring with them the opportunity to learn lessons for future infrastructure policy and decision-making.
- developing and articulating the strategic need;
- the role of politically driven decisions;
- design choices such as line speed;
- why private financing options weren’t used;
- the risk appetite and levels of innovation; and
- the lack of integration with the wider infrastructure system.
Since HS2 was proposed, many new policy processes and organisations have been developed to aid infrastructure planning and delivery.
These include the National Infrastructure Commission and its five-yearly infrastructure assessments.
Also, the Construction Playbook, which sets out better approaches for public sector procurement.
If these had been in place before HS2 was proposed, would things have been different? And if not, how could these be strengthened in light of lessons from HS2?
The discussion primarily covered:
- What responsibility does the UK government and the profession hold for the challenges HS2 faced and continues to face?
- Why did HS2’s cost issues go unchallenged for so long?
- Are governments globally facing similar challenges on projects of this size?
- What can be done proactively to foster a stronger culture of trust and collegial decision making on major projects?
Presidential Roundtable summary: HS2 – what went wrong? Learning lessons for infrastructure policymaking and the profession
Content type: Policy
Last updated: 20/12/2023