Tory grandees launch last-ditch bid to save the northern leg of HS2 as Rishi Sunak is poised to bring down the axe in his party speech tomorrow
- Source said PM is expected to confirm scrapping of Manchester leg tomorrow
Senior Tories launched a last-ditch bid to save the northern leg of HS2 last night as Rishi Sunak was poised to scrap it.
The party’s conference has been engulfed by a furious row over the high-speed rail line’s future, with the PM warned that scrapping the Birmingham to Manchester leg would be ‘turning your back’ on levelling-up.
West Midlands Tory mayor Andy Street warned the PM on social media: ‘I won’t let HS2 go without a fight.’
He later said at a fringe event: ‘If you tell the international investment community you are going to do something, you bloody well have to stick to your word.
‘You will be turning your back on an opportunity to level up – a once-in-a-generation opportunity.’ Dame Priti Patel suggested the PM should look at reducing costs rather than scrapping the northern leg.
Going nowhere: This engineering track shows how the route from Birmingham was set to join the existing West Coast line at Handsacre, Staffordshire. Instead it comes to a rather forlorn end and the northern leg now faces the scrapheap
Senior Tories launched a last-ditch bid to save the northern leg of HS2 last night as Rishi Sunak was poised to scrap it. Mr Sunak (centre) is pictured arriving at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester on Monday
She told Times Radio that Mr Sunak should have gone ‘over the numbers with a slide rule’. ‘Because to cancel it is a pretty drastic step forward,’ she added.
However, a Tory source said the PM was expected to confirm the scrapping of the Manchester leg in his conference speech in the city tomorrow.
The source said Mr Sunak was ‘ready to have the argument’ about the issue, adding: ‘This is not something we are ashamed of – we are doing the right thing, making sure that public money is well spent and that transport infrastructure in the North actually gets the improvement it deserves rather than throwing good money after bad.’
If the HS2 northern spur is scrapped, a dirt track in the Staffordshire countryside marks the end of the line for the project.
Drone shots show where the construction team have plotted out the route to the point where it would join the existing West Coast mainline at Handsacre before continuing on to Crewe.
The project has been dogged by delays, with costs spiralling from around £30billion to more than £100billion.
Dame Priti Patel suggested the PM should look at reducing costs rather than scrapping the northern leg. She told Times Radio that Mr Sunak should have gone ‘over the numbers with a slide rule’. Ms Patel is pictured giving a speech at the Great British Growth Rally on Monday
However, a Tory source said the PM was expected to confirm the scrapping of the Manchester leg in his conference speech in the city tomorrow. The source said Mr Sunak was ‘ready to have the argument’ about the issue. Pictured: Workers at the Old Oak Common Station construction site for the HS2 high-speed railway in north west London on September 29 this year
The HS2 project has been dogged by delays, with costs spiralling from around £30billion to more than £100billion. Pictured: A road sign is seen as construction continues of the HS2 high speed rail project, near Amersham, Britain on September 29 this year
The PM could use his speech to announce that tens of billions could instead be ploughed into other transport projects to level up the North. These would focus on East-West rail connectivity rather than North-South, along with road projects.
The minister for rail and HS2, Huw Merriman, appeared to all but confirm its fate yesterday.
Speaking at a conference fringe event, he said HS2 was ‘crowding out other opportunities to deliver more across the country’.
Downing Street yesterday insisted ‘no final decisions’ had been made, while government sources suggested that a significant delay is still on the table. Mr Street acknowledged that the PM has ‘inherited a very difficult situation’. He added: ‘Indeed he is right to try and get a grip of this situation. But gripping this situation means re-examining it.
‘It does not mean giving up, admitting defeat you could say, or cancelling the future.’
He said HS2 was about a lot more than ‘just a railway’ and that it had become a debate about ‘Britain’s ability to do the tough stuff successfully’. He has written to Mr Sunak urging him to consider offering a stake in the project to major private firms to reduce the cost to the public purse.
A spokesman for Chancellor Jeremy Hunt set hares running yesterday by refusing to deny plans on HS2 had been approved in the Treasury. Mr Hunt is pictured on Monday as he arrives on stage to speak during the second day of the the Conservative Party Conference
Engineering and construction giants Arup, Mace and Siemens are said to be interested following meetings with Mr Street.
Ministers have refused for two weeks to deny that the rail route is to be curtailed again, after the Birmingham to Leeds leg was canned in 2021.
A spokesman for Chancellor Jeremy Hunt set hares running yesterday by refusing to deny plans on HS2 had been approved in the Treasury, carefully saying: ‘It’s not the Treasury’s announcement… it’s for the Prime Minister.’
Earlier in the day, Mr Hunt indicated that he wanted to cut costs, telling LBC: ‘I need to have an answer why it costs ten times more to build high speed rail in this country than it does across the Channel in France.’
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