HS2 rail line could end in the Midlands as Cabinet minister Grant Shapps refuses to say northern leg of ‘very expensive’ project linking Birmingham and Manchester will definitely be built amid claims PM is about to pull the plug

Grant Shapps warned Rishi Sunak was prepared to take ‘difficult long-term decisions’ today as he signalled that the northern leg of the HS2 high-speed rail line could be scrapped.

Ahead of the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester next weekend the Defence Secretary declined to confirm the section of the ‘very expensive railway line’ connecting the city with Birmingham would be built.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt are expected to decide in the coming days whether the northern terminus should be in the Midlands and the London end should be at Old Oak Common – six miles west of the original Euston terminus.

Critics including  London Mayor Sadiq Khan have warned this would turn the project into ‘a colossal waste of public money’.

Mr Shapps, the former transport secretary, told Sky News‘s Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips: ‘It is the case that all of these big decisions where budgets are – in particular in the case of HS2 – inexorably going higher and higher and higher… It’s absolutely right that the Government looks at it and says: ”hold on a minute, is this just an open-ended cheque or are we going to make sure that this project gets delivered to a pace and a timetable that actually works for the taxpayer?”’

Mr Shapps, now Defence Secretary, said a decision would be taken ‘in due course’ but ‘what I can say is that we take those long-term decisions seriously, but we don’t think that any amount of money – no matter how big the budget gets, you should just carry on ploughing it in – there has to be a point at which you say ‘hold on a minute, let’s just take a break here”.

Ahead of the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester next weekend the Defence Secretary declined to confirm the section of the 'very expensive railway line' connecting the city with Birmingham would be built.

Ahead of the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester next weekend the Defence Secretary declined to confirm the section of the ‘very expensive railway line’ connecting the city with Birmingham would be built.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt are expected to decide in the coming days whether to axe the second phase of the high-speed line. A graphic of the line and each phase is pictured

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt are expected to decide in the coming days whether to axe the second phase of the high-speed line. A graphic of the line and each phase is pictured

Andy Burnham, the Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester, said people in the north of England are treated like ‘second-class citizens’ by facing a choice between HS2 and a cross-Pennine east-west route.

He told Sky News: ‘If they leave a situation where the southern half of the country is connected by modern high-speed lines, and the north of England is left with Victorian infrastructure, that is a recipe for the north-south divide to become a north-south chasm over the rest of this century.’

Labour has so far refused to confirm it would fund the line to Manchester if the Tories axe it, despite pressure from Mr Burnham.

In a letter sent to Mr Sunak, Mr Khan reveals that, according to Transport for London estimates, passengers who took HS2 from Birmingham to Old Oak Common, then used local public transport to get to Euston, would be travelling for one hour 22 minutes on a ‘best case’ scenario to reach the station, compared with the current scheduled time of one hour 21 minutes.

Former Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and David Cameron have led criticism of the new plan, with Mr Johnson saying that HS2 had been ‘mutilated’ by the Treasury.

Officials have watched in horror as the costs of the project have spiralled over the past decade. 

At the time of the 2010 Election, the budget was estimated at £20 billion; by 2021 it was up to £98 billion. Lord Berkeley, former deputy chairman of the Government’s independent review into the project, has warned that it could even hit £107 billion. 

While £2.3 billion has already been spent on the Manchester leg, Treasury officials working on a secret project, codenamed ‘Redwood’, have calculated that £34 billion would be saved by abandoning it now.

In his letter, Mr Khan says: ‘Terminating the service at Old Oak Common would be a short-sighted decision which will have long-term implications, significantly downgrading the value of HS2… and leaving a ridiculous situation where a ‘high-speed’ journey between Birmingham and Central London could take as long as the existing route, if not longer’.

Mr Johnson said: ‘This is total Treasury-driven nonsense. We need to connect the Midlands with the North with HS2 because that is the way to deliver Northern Powerhouse Rail. It makes no sense for HS2 to terminate at Old Oak Common rather than Euston.’

A Government spokesman said: ‘The HS2 project is well under way with spades in the ground and our focus remains on delivering it.’

The number of cancelled train services on the TransPennine Express has increased since it was taken over by the Government, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.

Rail users and business leaders initially heralded the move to renationalise the beleaguered line in May, saying it would represent a fresh start for passengers following months of complaints.

In a letter sent to Mr Sunak, London Mayor Sadiq Khan says this would turn the project into ‘a colossal waste of public money’

Some 2,331 services were scrapped between May 28 and August 19, after civil servants seized control from transport company FirstGroup, compared with 1,963 services in the final three months of private ownership.

Spokesmen for TransPennine Express and the Department for Transport blamed strike action this summer and said cancellations were low on non-strike days.

Source: | This article originally belongs to Dailymail.co.uk

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