Following press and media speculation over the weekend, it seems likely that Sir Terry Morgan is about to be relieved of his roles as chair of HS2 and Crossrail, after reports that the chancellor and the transport secretary have both lost confidence in him.
Reports leaked to the Financial Times suggested that chancellor Philip Hammond and transport secretary Chris Grayling have been lobbying Theresa May for his dismissal and Morgan himself said that he expected an announcement “in the next few days”. The FT quoted a government official close to HS2 as saying: “They told the prime minister they have no confidence in him and she agrees. It is only a question of finding the right moment to announce it.”
Morgan took over as chair of HS2 in July and has been chair at Crossrail since 2009. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s PM programme on Saturday he said: “I did get confirmation late yesterday afternoon that that was a leak. As far as I’m concerned, I’m expecting that to be confirmed more formally in the next few days.”
Morgan believes that the performance of Crossrail had led to doubts being raised about his abilities, given the importance of the HS2 project. “I can only presume, as I have not yet been told, that because HS2 is such a critically important programme and with a sense of disappointment around the performance of Crossrail that it was considered to be too risky for a programme like HS2 to continue in my role as chairman.”
Questions have been raised about delays to Crossrail and when these were first raised with London mayor Sadiq Khan. Morgan claims that Crossrail highlighted the need to delay completion from 2018 to 2019 a month before it was publicly revealed on 31 August. He said that ongoing discussions about the project’s timetable were “unfortunate” and that he hoped that documents would set the record straight soon.
“There’s been some unfortunate comment about who knew what and when about whether the programme on Crossrail was running late,” said Morgan. “I’m very confident that Crossrail behaved properly. There will be and there are plenty of documents that set out exactly what happened and when. I do hope that these documents will be released soon for others to understand. I don’t understand why all the comments that have been made, because some of them are just factually not correct.”
Morgan claimed that the documents were presented to the mayor and Transport for London on 26 July 2018 and said delivery in 2018 was “impossible”. For his part, London mayor Khan claims he did not mislead the public about when Crossrail would be delivered. The mayor says he has “significant concerns over transparency on the project and the effectiveness of Crossrail’s governance”.
Late last month, HS2 chief executive Mark Thurston said that the organisation was in talks with contractors to reduce costs on the project and spoke of “cost gaps” on the £55.7bn project. Back in August, the chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission, Sir John Armitt, said that ministers should spend an extra £43bn on projects linked to HS2 in order to make it worthwhile. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Armitt said that the government “cannot simply construct a new high-speed rail line and leave it at that; to get the biggest bang for our buck, we need to think about the whole journey that passengers will take.
“Once people reach the end of their HS2 journey and travel into the city they are visiting, on current form, they would in many cases face inadequate public transport links and congestion on the roads,” he said. Armitt also said that local areas should be given the funds to improve their own infrastructure.
Despite the current challenges surrounding HS2, Maria Machancoses, director of Midlands Connect, said that it was important to maintain focus on delivering the project on time and in its entirety. “HS2 is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revolutionise our transport network and rebalance the UK economy,” said Machancoses. “Birmingham and the West Midlands have already enjoyed significant benefits from HS2 - accelerated economic development, more people and businesses locating here and a swathe of other inward investment.
“HS2 is a very long-term project, so it will inevitably change in leadership and personnel over the next 15 years. The most important thing is that we complete HS2 on time and in its entirety, spreading its benefits across the Midlands and the north. We mustn’t allow short term changes to distract from the long-term goals of improving capacity, connectivity and the customer experience on our railways, as well as fostering skills and economic growth. As civic and industry leaders, we all have a responsibility to work together to provide ongoing, vocal support for this game-changing infrastructure project,” she said.
With some reports claiming that HS2’s budget could eventually spiral to £80bn, the government will need to get a grip on the project soon to restore confidence in its ability to deliver major infrastructure schemes.