Shapps says PM prepared to make 'difficult decisions' as Rishi Sunak could axe HS2’s northern leg

Shapps said it would be "crazy" to not consider how HS2 proceeds in line with soaring costs and inflation

Cabinet minister Grant Shapps has said Rishi Sunak is prepared to take “difficult long-term decisions” amid widespread speculation the prime minister will axe the northern leg of HS2.

Rishi Sunak appears poised to axe the HS2 rail line from Birmingham to Manchester – despite opposition from Tory predecessors, business chiefs and the Mayor of London.

The Sunday Telegraph reported the potential cost of the high-speed rail scheme – which Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has said is “out of control” – had increased by £8 billion.

Mr Shapps, the former transport secretary, told Sky News’s Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips: “It is the case that all of these big decisions where budgets are – in particular in the case of HS2 – inexorably going higher and higher and higher… It’s absolutely right that the government looks at it and says: ‘Hold on a minute, is this just an open-ended cheque or are we going to make sure that this project gets delivered to a pace and a timetable that actually works for the taxpayer?'”

Now Defence Secretary, Mr Shapps said a decision would be taken “in due course” but “what I can say is that we take those long-term decisions seriously, but we don’t think that any amount of money – no matter how big the budget gets, you should just carry on ploughing it in – there has to be a point at which you say ‘hold on a minute, let’s just take a break here'”.

The Observer suggested the decision to kill off the Manchester leg of the scheme could come before the Tories host their conference in the city on October 1.

The prime minister and Chancellor are reported to be meeting to discuss the situation in the coming days.

Newspapers have reported that officials expect the upper estimate of building the initial London to Birmingham stretch of the line to increase by more than £8 billion from the £45 billion figure published in June 2022.

Speaking to ITV News' Harry Horton, Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said HS2 is needed 'to make sure the UK economy is competitive in the future'

Spiralling costs could prevent investment in other transport projects and wipe out any financial benefits from the scheme, the newspaper said.

Former prime minister Boris Johnson has labelled the scepticism around the scheme “total Treasury-driven nonsense”, stressing that it would make no sense to have a “mutilated” HS2 and warning that announcing it before the Manchester conference would be “the height of insanity”.

David Cameron has also privately raised significant concerns about the prospect that the high-speed rail line could be truncated.

Dozens of business leaders signed a Times letter accusing Mr Sunak of damaging Britain’s reputation as a place to do business by allowing uncertainty to “plague” the project.

Sir John Armitt, chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission, said it would be a “tragedy” if the scheme was cut back.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said HS2’s costs were ‘out of control’ Credit: Aaron Chown/PA

He warned it would damage the UK’s appeal as a place to invest in major projects.

Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, has said people in the north of England are treated like “second-class citizens” over HS2.

He told Sky News’s Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips: “An east-west line is really important for north of England, as well as north-south. Why is it always that people here are forced to choose? That we can’t have everything, ‘you can have this or you can have that but you can’t have everything’?

“London never has to choose between a north-south line and an east-west line and good public transport within the city.

“Why is it that people in the north are always forced to choose, why are we always treated as second-class citizens when it comes to transport?"

An artist impression of an HS2 train. Credit: PA

And in a letter to the prime minister, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said HS2 could end up being a “colossal waste of money” if key elements of the plan are scrapped.

Mr Khan said it would take longer to get from Birmingham to central London on HS2 than existing trains if plans for it to terminate at Euston station are abandoned.

He said the speculation about scrapping the Birmingham-Manchester leg of the route was “deeply worrying”.

The Labour mayor told Mr Sunak: “The Government’s approach to HS2 risks squandering the huge economic opportunity that it presents and turning it instead into a colossal waste of public money.”

When the railway first opens between London and Birmingham, expected between 2029 and 2033, its terminus in the capital will be Old Oak Common, in the western suburbs.

HS2 trains are not expected to run to Euston until around 2041 at the earliest and there are now doubts the central London extension will ever go ahead.

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