RIshi Sunak ducked over the fate of the HS2 Manchester leg today as Tories warned against scrapping it days before the party’s conference in the city.
The PM refused to be drawn on signs that the government is on the cusp of downgrading the project again over spiralling costs.
Speaking on a visit to Hertfordshire this morning, Mr Sunak merely insisted he is still committed to ‘Levelling Up’ – stressing other issues such as pot holes and bus services. Downing Street seemed to hint at a delay this lunchtime, with speculation it could be pushed back seven years to save money.
With deep splits Conservative splits emerging, MPs voiced alarm that the announcement could come while the party is holding its crunch pre-election gathering in Manchester.
Former chancellor George Osborne and Lord Heseltine said that the move would be a ‘gross act of vandalism’ and ‘abandon’ the North and Midlands.
There are also concerns about the prospect of terminating HS2 in the suburbs of London, rather than running it into the centre of the capital as was previously envisaged.
Meanwhile there are claims that a major Tory donor is threatening to pull funding if the line is slashed.
On a visit to Hertfordshire this morning, Rishi Sunak refused to be drawn on signs that the government is on the cusp of downgrading the project again over spiralling costs
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt (pictured jogging today) has admitted that the cost of the HS2 scheme is ‘out of control’
Rishi Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt could decide within days whether to axe the second phase of the high-speed line. This graphic shows the phases of the line
In an article for the Times newspaper with Tory grandee Lord Heseltine, Mr Osborne warned the Prime Minister about damaging Britain’s reputation and protecting his own legacy.
He wrote: ‘Governments are remembered for what they build and create. Make this mistake, and yours may only be known for what it cancelled and curtailed.’
Citing Boris Johnson‘s winning message in the 2019 election, they added: ‘How could ever again claim to be levelling up when you cancel the biggest levelling-up project in the country?’
Mr Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt – who has admitted that the cost of the scheme is ‘out of control’ – are expected to meet within days to discuss scrapping the northern leg of HS2.
The decision will set the backdrop for November’s Autumn Statement.
There are fears the upper estimate of building the initial London to Birmingham stretch of the line is set to rise by more than £8billion from the £45billion published in June 2022.
Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said yesterday that it would be ‘crazy’ not to review HS2.
Mr Shapps, a former transport secretary, warned the Government could not write an ‘open-ended cheque’ if costs were ‘inexorably going higher and higher’.
‘I think the sequencing of what happens next is a perfectly legitimate question,’ he said.
He told the BBC: ‘We have seen the costs accelerate a lot. Of course, inflation has been part of that.
‘There are various different estimates and I think that’s one of the things that the Government wants to check, particularly on the costs now post the inflationary picture out of the war in Ukraine.
‘I have to say that it would be irresponsible to simply spend the money, carry on as if nothing had changed, if there has been a change in that fiscal picture.’
Mr Johnson has warned against ‘mutilating’ the line, while David Cameron is also said to have privately raised concerns.
Commons Health Committee chairman Steve Brine said it would look ‘odd’ to scrap the scheme in the days before Tory MPs and activists arrive in Manchester.
He also said he hoped the line would run all the way into central London rather than terminating at Old Oak Common in the capital’s western suburbs.
‘It would seem very odd for us to be in Manchester next week and can a project to Manchester,’ Mr Brine told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour.
‘It would seem very odd not to bring this new rail line into central London and just stop it at Old Oak Common.
‘So I really hope a way can be found to do this.’
Kieran Mullan, the Tory MP for Crewe and Nantwich, urged the Government to continue with the project. He said: ‘We all agree levelling up is desperately needed. London has bounced back from the pandemic more quickly than anywhere else and the gap is only expected to get bigger.
The former Chancellor’s intervention comes as ministers are due to make a decision on the northern leg this week
Andy Burnham, the Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester, said people in the North of England are treated like ‘second-class citizens’ by having to face a choice between HS2 and a cross-Pennine East to West route
Former chancellor George Osborne (pictured) and Lord Heseltine said that the move would be a ‘gross act of vandalism’ and ‘abandon’ the North and Midlands
‘HS2 might not be perfect but it is already helping close that gap in Birmingham and the North.’
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has written to the PM warning that the project could end up being a ‘colossal waste of public money’ if the northern leg is scrapped and it does not go all the way into central London.
When the railway first opens between London and Birmingham, expected between 2029 and 2033, its terminus will be at Old Oak Common in the western suburbs of the capital.
HS2 trains are not expected to run on to London Euston until around 2041. And there are now doubts the central London extension will ever go ahead.
Andy Burnham, the Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester, said people in the North of England are treated like ‘second-class citizens’ by having to face a choice between HS2 and a cross-Pennine East to West route.
Labour has refused to confirm it would fund the line to Manchester if the Tories axe it, despite pressure from Mr Burnham.
Source: | This article originally belongs to Dailymail.co.uk