The future of HS2 north of Birmingham looks dead in the water as Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt stood poised to shelve the rail link to Manchester due to concerns over spiralling costs and delays to the project.
Downing Street repeatedly refused to guarantee the second phase of the high-speed line would go ahead despite admitting that “spades are already in the ground” as part of its construction.
Such a move would deliver a hammer blow to the Government’s promise to level up the country, and could cost thousands of jobs as well as more than £2bn in public money that has already been spent on the second phase of the project.
Officially neither the Prime Minister nor the Chancellor have made a final decision on its future, but i understands a decision could be set out by the Autumn Statement in November.
The news comes after The Independent reported that ministers were discussing shelving the northern phase of the scheme due to concerns about the ballooning budget needed to build the new rail line.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said “spades are already in the ground on our HS2 programme and we’re focused on delivering it” but would not promise the line would go to Manchester.
“I can’t comment on speculation around a leaked document. It is obviously standard process for departments to discuss the phasing of major projects like HS2… but the work is already under way,” he said.
Asked whether the Prime Minister was committed to the line going to Manchester, the spokesman said: “We are committed to HS2, to the project. I can’t comment on the speculation that’s a result of a photograph. We are as you know looking at the rephasing of the work in the best interests of passengers and taxpayers.”
Reacting to the news, Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh said: “The Conservatives crashed the economy and now they want the north to pay the price.
“Their chaotic mismanagement has hit jobs, harmed growth, and cost taxpayers even more.”
The Government announced earlier this year that there would be at least a two-year delay to HS2 between Birmingham, Crewe and Manchester, which would result in the line to Crewe not opening until 2036 and Manchester opening in 2043 at the earliest.
Under the plans, trains in the first phase of the project will run from Birmingham and terminate in Old Oak Common outside London, with trains eventually terminating in London Euston in around 2041-2043.
A spokesperson for High Speed Rail Group said:“Once again the 30,000 men and women who are working every day to deliver HS2 will return home to find further speculation about whether they will be allowed to complete the job they have started.
“Were phase 2 to be cancelled it would be a disaster for the North and the Midlands. After 13 years during which the Government has promoted the project, it would also be the ultimate U-turn.
“The government needs to kill the speculation and make its intentions clear, and it ought to commit clearly and unambiguously to delivering the project as planned. The 30,000 people delivering HS2 deserve this. Our future generations deserve this. The North and Midlands deserve this.”