Labour applies the brakes on high speed rail in the UK

Ed Balls launched Labours new childcare policy this morning as the party looks set to abandon the high speed 2 railway project Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/PA Wire

Aside from Ed Balls announcing an extra 10 hours free childcare and his attempt to show that Labour can be trusted with the economy once more - there was another significant element to his speech.

The Shadow Chancellor dropped the biggest hint yet that Labour would ditch the planned high speed rail link from London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.

The costs of the line - known as HS2 - has risen in the last few months to more than £42 billion. It has also come under sustained criticism over the summer.

An animation of what HS2 would look like Credit: Department of Transport

David Cameron launched what he himself called a "fightback" two weeks ago but Ed Balls today accused the Prime Minister of putting his "pride and vanity" ahead of "value for money for the taxpayer."

Ed Balls said: "So let me be clear, in tough times – when there is less money around and a big deficit to get down – there will be no blank cheque from me as a Labour Chancellor for this project or for any project."

He also asked if HS2 "is the best way to spend £50 billion for the future of our country."

The controversial route from London to Birmingham has proved unpopular Credit: ITV News

Aides to the Shadow Chancellor admit they have "notched up" their criticisms of the project and point out that MrBalls is concerned by the "dwindling benefits" of the line.

Alistair Darling, the former Labour Chancellor who gave the project the green light, has already pulled his support.

The controversial scheme, which supporters argue is needed to avert a capacity crisis on the West Coast mainline, would be built in two stages: firstly from London to Birmingham and the second stage from Birmingham to Manchester and Birmingham to Leeds.

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