I feel for the poor people affected by the omnishambles that is the HS2 plans for Euston reported in the Camden New Journal. Hundreds of people have had the threat of demolition hanging over their head for ages, only to find that now HS2 have completely revised their plans, with no apparent community benefit. At the heart of the problem is grotesquely bad costing of what the original station plans would have cost. Ring any bells?
In a dogged, round-headed and boring way we tracked the appalling cost inflation of the Kings Cross refurbishment. Having seen St Pancras soar to £850 million we were horrified, but not surprised to see the Kings Cross costs edge up to top out at £550-odd million – an astonishing amount of money for a public building and miles above the figure of ‘around £400million’ first revealed to us at a local public meeting. As I put in FOI request after request and poked away at DfT, Network Rail and the rail regulator the feedback I got was that I was like some sort of naughty child farting at a formal dinner – it was indecent to ask and I should just be quiet and enjoy the feast.
The briefing DfT supplied for the Minister at the Kings Cross opening event (obtained by FOI) was hilarious – when asked if the project was over budget she was briefed to say that it wasn’t possible to formulate a budget until they knew what they wanted the building to do. which wasn’t worked out until the final months it seemed. So you couldn’t say it was over budget.
‘The true cost of a project is only known when a single option has been decided on.’
A laughable line to take from a government Minister in the middle of an austerity drive.
The problem in rail engineering seems to be that they don’t start with a budget – say ‘I have £100m, what sort of train station can you build for me for that?’ but instead seek a ‘solution’ and worry about the cost later, safe in the knowledge that the industry is impenetrable, unaccountable, the DfT civil servants are safely captured and as it a monopoly the money can be screwed out somewhere. It’s unlikely that Kings Cross would have been funded were it not for the pressure of the Olympics, for instance.
Whilst HS2 has at least manned up to the costs and tried to tackle them, they should always have started with a strict budget and built to that, instead of putting the frighteners on local people facing demolition and eviction.