A DOCUMENTARY will claim this evening that the scrapping of HS2 is now under ‘active consideration’ by ministers, as rising costs continue to threaten the project. It is also being suggested that only Phase 1 might survive, between London and Birmingham.
Predictions of a much higher final bill than £56 billion have been made frequently over the past couple of years, with some critics suggesting the total could be more than £100 billion when the planned phases have all been built between now and 2033.
The government has maintained that the scheme is going ahead, and HS2 has the public support of the Prime Minister, although the next stage of legislation, which would authorise the lines to Manchester and Leeds, has been postponed until next year.
Some Whitehall sources have claimed that ministers are ‘minded’ to divert the allocated funds to conventional railway projects. In spite of Mrs May’s apparent support, one minister has alleged that she wanted to ‘scrap the whole thing’ after taking over at No 10 from David Cameron, although she changed her mind before taking any steps to kill the scheme.
The Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham will tell ‘Dispatches’ viewers on Channel 4 this evening that ‘The big scandal would be if the rumours come true that HS2 stops at Birmingham. That will be criminal, that will be a complete waste of money.’
Meanwhile, government rail advisor Professor Stephan Glaister says: ‘There was no big picture analysis. We just don’t know whether there would have been a better way of spending the money. You might ask the question what else could you do? You could give larger sums of money to Manchester to Birmingham, to Newcastle and let them do as they saw best for their local communities.’
The programme, called ‘HS2: the great train robbery’, will also report the views of HS2’s new chief executive, Mark Thurston.
He said: ‘What I'm very clear on and what HS2 is very clear on is that the budget for this scheme is £56 billion. That’s the task we've been set by government and that's what we work on until government advise us otherwise.’
As far as investment in the North of England is concerned, he added: ‘We have to do both. When High Speed 2 and the work of Northern Powerhouse Rail brings together an integrated rail network to connect those Northern cities, its will transform the northern economy, it will transform as a consequence the UK economy, it will rebalance that prosperity and wealth gap that we know we have between North and South.’