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Grant Shapps has hinted that the Government could consider axing the northern leg of the HS2 rail line, suggesting it would be “irresponsible” to continue the project as is.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt are poised to cancel the HS2 rail line between Birmingham and Manchester due to concerns over spiralling costs and delays to the project.
In March, the Government confirmed parts of the scheme, which is already significantly behind schedule, will be delayed as a result of escalating costs.
Quizzed on the future of the high-speed rail link, Defence Secretary Grant Shapps, who is a former transport secretary, said there was a “perfectly legitimate question” about the sequencing of the project.
“There are various different estimates and I think that’s one of the things that the Government wants to check, particularly on the costs now post the inflationary picture out of the war in Ukraine,” he told BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme
“But I have to say that it would be irresponsible to simply spend the money, carry on as if nothing had changed, if there has been a change in that fiscal picture.”
He added that HS2 was not the “be all and end all” for northern transport projects, and suggested that investing in local transport schemes “might be very helpful for people who are commuting”.
“Obviously the large things like HS2, which I think is the biggest construction project in Europe, suck up a lot of that money. Any government has to make those decisions.”
Mr Shapps would not confirm reports that the Government was seeking to scrap the northern leg of the HS2 project, but told Sky News’ Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips show that there could be a change to its “sequencing” and “pace”.
He said: “Money is not infinite. All of these big decisions where budgets are, in particularly in the case of HS2, inexorably going higher and higher and higher and your viewers are having to pay that bill, it is absolutely right that the government looks at it and says hold on a minute, is this just a sort of open ended cheque or are we going to make sure this project gets delivered to a pace and a timetable that actually works for the taxpayer?”
“We take those long term decisions seriously, but we don’t think any amount of money, no matter how big the budget gets, that you should just carry on ploughing it in. There has a point where you say hold on a minute, let’s just take a break here.”
He added that the country has to respond to the circumstances” brought on by the impact of Covid and the war in Ukraine.
“We did not know there would be coronavirus, a one in 100 year event… we didn’t know there would be a war on in Europe… so of course, if circumstances change, you have to look at the sequencing of the big infrastructure cash that you spend.”
“Any government that doesn’t do that, any opposition that claims you don’t need to is not fit to govern this country.”
Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, criticised calls for HS2’s northern leg to be scrapped, claiming on Sunday that people in the north of England are treated like “second-class citizens”.
He told Sky News: “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?
He added that leaving the north of England with “Victorian infrastructure” while the rest of the country is connected by modern high-speed lines was “a recipe for the north-south divide to become a north-south chasm over the rest of this century”.
“And that is why people here are fed up with false promises and also watching now what seems to be the desperate acts of a dying Government. This is really not right and not fair to people here who were given so many promises,” Mr Burnham continued.