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Chancellor Sajid Javid set to back controversial HS2 rail project

The HS2 project is set to gain heavyweight support from Chancellor Sajid Javid Credit: Siemens/PA

Chancellor Sajid Javid is set to throw his weight behind the controversial HS2 rail project.

Mr Javid is expected to say he supports the high speed train initiative at a meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps on Thursday.

It is understood that having reviewed costs and alternatives, the Chancellor will “broadly back” the line from London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.

Chancellor Sajid Javid is expected to ‘broadly back’ the HS2 project having studied the forecast costs of the controversial initiative Credit: PA

Former Chancellor George Osborne threw his weight behind the project.

He said: "When you see the brilliant science and business happening in the north it would be nuts to cancel HS2.

"This is going to connect the north of England and the Midlands to the south and help level up the economic geography of the UK."

Mr Shapps said a decision on the controversial infrastructure project – the biggest in Europe – will be announced next month.

Asked in the House of Commons about whether the project will be given the go-ahead, he said: "I don't wish to disappoint my honourable friend but he won't have to wait very long, and we will have an announcement on this next month."

It has been estimated the scheme, which was allocated £56 billion in 2015, could cost up to £106 billion.

The Prime Minister told the Commons on Wednesday that a decision on the project would be made “very shortly”.

He said: “I just want to reassure all of my honourable friends and everybody, whatever persuasion they may be about HS2 across this Chamber, that there will be an announcement and a decision very shortly.”

HS2 is intended to link London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. Credit: PA

Some £8 billion has already been spent on the scheme.

The meeting comes as Mr Javid has put pressure on Cabinet colleagues to identify where cuts of 5% could be made in their departmental budgets.

In a letter, co-signed by Mr Johnson, the Chancellor urged ministers to identify projects that could be abandoned ahead of his first Budget as Chancellor in March.

The intervention was seen at Westminster as a bid to find resources to fund Tory election promises on infrastructure, health and law and order.

Whitehall’s spending watchdog said this month that HS2 is over budget and behind schedule because its complexity and risks were under-estimated.

The National Audit Office (NAO) warned that it is impossible to “estimate with certainty what the final cost could be”.

Credit: PA Graphics

Phase One between London and Birmingham was due to open in 2026, but full services are now forecast to start between 2031 and 2036.

Business chiefs in the north of England have argued that pushing forward with HS2 is key to boosting transport links across the region and providing increased capacity on the overcrowded rail network.

Construction firms warn that scrapping it would cause major damage to the industry.

However, opponents insist HS2 is too expensive and the money would be better spent elsewhere, while several environmental groups say it would cause huge damage to natural habitats and ancient woodland.