Birmingham to Manchester leg of HS2 ‘will not be high speed and will use existing West Coast Mainline track’
- This would confirm speculation that northern leg of project has been shelved
The Birmingham to Manchester leg of HS2 will allegedly not be high speed and will use existing West Coast Mainline track.
The news would confirm days of speculation that the northern part of the controversial project has been shelved, Sky News reported.
It comes after Rishi Sunak today refused to confirm that the Manchester leg of the HS2 line is being ditched despite a wave of condemnation.
HS2 will reportedly start at Euston rather than Old Oak Common but will not be high speed between Birmingham and Manchester.
The rail line will stop in Manchester, but will switch to use existing track from Birmingham, meaning it will run at a slower pace.
The Birmingham to Manchester leg of HS2 will allegedly not be high speed and will use existing West Coast Mainline track (File image)
Meanwhile there has also been uncertainty over Euston station and whether the line will terminate there as initially planned.
There were previous rumours that it could stop at Old Oak Common instead, but Sky News has reported that the rail line may stop at Euston in a move that may have been designed to calm critics.
The development, broken on the Politics Hub with Sophy Ridge programme, comes after multiple attempts by the Prime Minister and other members of the Cabinet to stop questions about the northern leg of the project.
Mr Sunak desperately blustered today as he was challenged during interviews at the Tory conference to admit that the decision has already been taken to scrap the plans over the eye-watering expense.
He said the costs were ‘enormous’ but insisted he would ‘not be rushed’ into an announcement – which is now widely expected during his keynote speech tomorrow.
And brushing away anger about bungled communications, Mr Sunak insisted he ‘really’ thinks that the process is ‘going well’.
The party’s conference in Manchester has been engulfed by the meltdown over the high-speed line’s future.
West Midlands Tory mayor Andy Street delivered a brutal salvo last night as the situation emerged, and even refused to rule out resigning.
‘I won’t let HS2 go without a fight,’ he said.
Touring broadcasters this morning, Mr Sunak said costs had gone ‘far beyond’ what had been predicted and the sums involved were ‘enormous’.
He told Times Radio: ‘It’s clear that the costs of this programme has escalated far beyond what anyone thought at the beginning.
Rishi Sunak desperately blustered as he was challenged during interviews at the Tory conference that the decision has already been taken to scrap the plans
Going nowhere: This engineering track shows how the HS2 route from Birmingham was set to join the existing West Coast line at Handsacre, Staffordshire. Instead northern leg now faces the scrapheap
‘I know there’s lots of speculation on it, but what I would say is I’ll approach this in the same way I approach everything in this job, I will take the time to look at it properly, get across the detail and then decide what’s right for the country.
‘The sums involved are enormous and it’s right that the Prime Minister takes proper care over it.
‘It’s obviously not my money – it’s taxpayers’ money and we should make the right decisions on these things.’
In other developments at Tory conference today:
- Mr Sunak insisted he is relaxed about Tory demands for immediate tax cuts, spearheaded by ex-PM Liz Truss;
- Suella Braverman is due to play up her tough stance on immigration in a speech to activists being seen as a thinly-veiled pitch to be next party leader;
- Speculation is mounting that Mr Sunak could announce a rising age limit on buying cigarettes, meaning that the younger generation would be unable to buy them;
- Nigel Farage danced the night away with Priti Patel in Manchester as Tories urged him to rejoin the party.
Rishi shrugs off Liz Truss tax cut demands
Rishi Sunak has brushed off Tory demands for immediate tax cuts, led by his predecessor.
The short-lived PM was greeted by lengthy queues when she appeared in Manchester yesterday.
Ms Truss has joined calls for the Government to change course in a bid to boost growth, urging Jeremy Hunt to cut corporation tax to at least 19 per cent and to slash Government spending.
But Mr Sunak appeared unconcerned about the apparent popularity of his former leadership rival.
Asked on Times Radio if it worried him, he said: ‘No, not at all.
‘Lots of Conservatives here. I think the mood is great.
‘People are excited about the things we’re doing.’
Mr Sunak rejected the idea that the HS2 row had overshadowed the conference so far. ‘I don’t think that. Actually we’re having a great conference,’ he said.
Pressed again, he said: ‘The mood here is great.’
Grilled on whether he thought the HS2 process had ‘gone well’, Mr Sunak replied: ‘I really do.’
As the backlash grew last night, Mr Street told 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.’
Priti Patel suggested the PM should look at reducing costs rather than scrapping the northern leg.
She said 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.
Rail industry figures at the conference have privately started calling HS2 the ‘Aston to Acton line’ because it seems set to only link two small suburbs of London and Birmingham.
The project has been dogged by delays, with costs spiralling from around £30billion to more than £100billion.
West Midlands Tory mayor Andy Street delivered a brutal salvo last night as the situation emerged, and even refused to rule out resigning
Priti Patel suggested the PM should look at reducing costs rather than scrapping the northern leg
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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