Sunak says he will make 'bold decisions' on set-to-be scrapped HS2

Watch Rishi Sunak's interview with Robert Peston at the Conservative Party Conference in full

Rishi Sunak has said he makes bold decisions when asked if he is scrapping HS2 but is still refusing to confirm or deny whether the northern leg of high speed rail has been abandoned.

The prime minister has been dodging the question for weeks, insisting he will not comment on "speculation" - which he again did in an interview with ITV News on Tuesday morning - but his words suggest HS2 will not reach Manchester.

The project - which was originally budgeted at £30 billion - is now estimated to have soared higher than £100 billion, even after the Leeds leg was scrapped, and Mr Sunak suggested that was too high.

"I know there's a lot of speculation on this," the PM told ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston, but said he wanted to reassure people he will approach the situation "thoughtfully, responsibly, carefully" in order to "make the right long term decision for the country".

Pressured to confirm the reports, Mr Sunak did appear to suggest a change to the project would be coming, despite protests from within his party.

He said: "I do things properly and carefully responsibly and sensibly that I approach this, but I'm also willing to do things that are bold that are different."

But many senior Tories, businesses and northern leaders are urging the prime minister to stick with the project during the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester.

Former chancellor George Osborne told reporters it would be a "tragedy" to abandon it, Conservative West Midlands Mayor Andy Street said he was "damaging" his international reputation, and Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said it was a "betrayal of the north of England".

But Mr Sunak believes connectivity between northern towns and cities is more important to people in those areas than a high speed rail link with London.

It is understood he will allocate billions previously ringfenced for HS2 to other transport projects in the north.

He told Peston: "I want people everywhere to feel that this government is backing them... Just at this conference, we announced a billion pounds for 55 towns across the UK, including many in the north and midlands."

"That's me backing millions of people across our Midlands and northern towns with the funding and tools they need to change their communities for the better," he added.

Mr Sunak is expected to hold an emergency Cabinet meeting to sign off the measures during his party conference in the city most directly hit by the cut.

He is then likely to confirm the decision in his speech keynote speech on Wednesday, however he will be unable to escape the irony that he is scrapping the Manchester leg of HS2 while in the city for his party's conference, which is being held in a repurposed train station.

An expanded Northern Powerhouse Rail project linking cities and cash for potholes and bus routes could be announced to sweeten the pill of curtailing the project feared to have spiralled past £100 billion.

But Henri Murison, chief executive of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said backtracking on HS2 would be “madness”.

ITV News Poltical Correspondent Harry Horton has the latest on HS2:

Mr Sunak however has repeatedly insisted he wants taxpayers to get value for money and in his interview with Peston said the best way to find savings is to reduce inflation.

"Part of how we bring inflation down for people is be careful with our borrowing," he said, as he rejected calls from within his party for tax cuts.

Asked about his predecessor Liz Truss's demands for swift tax cuts, Mr Sunak said the "best tax cut I can deliver for the country right now is to halve of inflation".

Ms Truss drew one of the the biggest crowds at Tory conference for her pro growth speech - as many ministers spoke to mostly empty autitoriums - indicating many people still back her low-tax policies.

But, asked if he would comply with her demands, which include slashing corportation tax, the PM said: "I think we had this debate last summer, I'm not interested in looking at the past. I'm interested in doing the right thing for the country in the long term." He added: "Lots of people will have lots of ideas. I don't think that's the right priority. I've been very clear about that."