Rishi Sunak ‘to announce’ he’s scrapping HS2 Birmingham to Manchester northern route
The Birmingham to Manchester leg of the HS2 project is now expected to be shelved by Rishi Sunak
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The northern leg of HS2 is set to be scrapped, it has been reported.
Speculation has been rife that Rishi Sunak would finally wield the axe over the HS2 route from Birmingham to Manchester as costs spiral, leaving a line from London to Birmingham only.
However, there has been no official announcement yet as neither Chancellor Jeremy Hunt nor Transport Secretary Mark Harper mentioned the future of the high-speed line in their speeches at the ongoing Conservative Party Conference in Manchester.
A package appeared to have been signed off by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt on Monday amid suggestions the pill could be sweetened by improvements for northern infrastructure. Downing Street insists that “no final decisions” have been made over axing the northern leg of the high-speed rail plans from Birmingham, with Cabinet sign-off expected before an announcement.
But a spokesman for Mr Hunt declined to deny plans had been approved in the Treasury, carefully saying: “A decision will be announced in due course.
“It’s not the Treasury’s announcement… it’s for the Prime Minister.”
No 10 said that some reports on the plans were “incorrect”, but did not set out which details were wrong and did not deny that a Cabinet meeting would be arranged.
Andy Street, the Tory mayor of the West Midlands, as well as Birmingham City Football Club owner Tom Wagner, are among the critics of scaling back the HS2 project, while London mayor Sadiq Khan warned it could make the UK a “laughing stock”.
Mr Sunak’s set-piece speech at the Manchester conference – where the party slogan is “Long term decisions for a brighter future” – is scheduled for Wednesday.
What has Labour said about plans to scrap the northern route?
Labour’s shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh, said: “This fiasco shows the Conservatives are too divided and too distracted to take this country forward.
“After weeks of chaos and indecision on the biggest infrastructure project in the country, Rishi Sunak’s relaunch is now coming off the rails.
“This shambolic conference is showcasing precisely why working people cannot afford five more years of the Conservatives.”
An expanded Northern Powerhouse Rail project linking northern cities and fresh cash for potholes and bus routes could be announced to soften the blow. But the drastic cost-cutting exercise amid suggestions the price-tag has spiralled past £100 billion could also see HS2 end at Old Oak Common in the capital’s western suburbs.
Boris Johnson has warned that failing to build it to Euston would render it a “white elephant”.
Neither the Chancellor nor Transport Secretary Mark Harper mentioned the future of HS2 in their conference speeches despite continued reports that it would be scaled back.
The news comes as a survey from West Midlands Combined Authority revealed that people across the UK have little appetite for abandoning Phase 2 of the high-speed rail line.
A total of 76% of those surveyed agreed that building only part of the original route meant all the money spent on the first leg to Birmingham would be wasted and the disruption already caused by its construction rendered pointless.
The survey, commissioned by the West Midlands Growth Company, part of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), also found that 69% believed ‘failure to complete HS2 was a failure to level up the rest of the UK’.
The findings were echoed amongst people living in the West Midlands with 74% believing the scrapping of Phase 2 would be a waste of money and 70% believing it would be a failure to level up the nation.
Conservative Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen told a conference fringe event that the “indecision” on HS2 was causing a “distraction” as he urged ministers to commit to Northern Powerhouse Rail.
Along with Mr Johnson, fellow Tory former prime ministers Theresa May and David Cameron have all issued warnings against scaling it back.