Labour has stepped up demands for an inquiry into the HS2 high speed rail line following reports it’s set to cost £30bn more than expected
Allan Cook, chairman of HS2 Ltd, has written privately to the Department for Transport to say the high-speed line cannot be delivered within its £55.7 billion budget, according to the Financial Times.
￼It would push the cost of the project up to around £86 billion.
Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald said there was an urgent need for investment in the North of England, and Labour backed plans for a Northern Powerhouse Rail network.
This is a project developed by Transport for the North that would bring high speed rail services to Darlington, Durham and Newcastle. It could cost £39bn alone.
But Mr McDonald said the latest warning about costs showed why an inquiry into HS2 was needed.
He said: “We desperately need additional rail capacity that connects with a fully developed Northern Powerhouse Rail network. These are critical elements of the advanced railway network that our country needs over the coming decades to address the climate crisis.
“We also proposed a peer review of the project but the Government said no. They should reconsider their stance and embrace that independent review.
“It is clear that the Government and HS2 have a lot of work to do if they’re to restore confidence in this project.”
HS2 will connect Birmingham, London, the East Midlands, Leeds, Crewe and Manchester.
￼The proposed route for the HS2 high speed rail scheme in the north-west, East Midlands and Yorkshire (Image: PA)
It is due eventually to connect to another rail project, Northern Powerhouse Rail, which would extend high speed services to Liverpool and Newcastle.
HS2 Ltd, the Government-owned business building the rail line, has not denied that the letter was sent.
A spokesperson said: “We don’t comment on leaks or speculation.
“We have previously noted that our Chair, as you would expect, continues to scrutinise the programme, and regularly reports back to the Department. We are determined to deliver a railway that rebalances the economy, creates jobs, boosts economic growth and is value for money for taxpayers.”
Conservative leadership candidate Boris Johnson has said he will hold a review into HS2 if he becomes Prime Minister. However, he said he would have to “think very hard” about cancelling it entirely.
Some Conservative MPs want the scheme abandoned. Conservative MP and former cabinet minister Priti Patel published a paper over the weekend calling for “targeted smaller, higher return infrastructure programmes across the regions” instead of a reliance on “grand projects such as HS2”.
The legislation authorising the construction of HS2 between Birmingham and Crewe was last week approved in the House of Commons by 263 votes in favour to 17 against. While this was an overwhelming majority in favour of the scheme, it also means that a large number of MPs abstained. There are 312 Conservative MPs at Westminster and 247 Labour MPs.
Business leaders also say that the next Prime Minister must go ahead with HS2 to create jobs in the North.
￼Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director-General, said: “Early signals matter. The new Prime Minister has a real chance to inject a new lease of life into the UK economy.
“He should take a transformative approach to making the country more competitive, innovative and inclusive. We urge the next Prime Minister to act fast to get the economy back on track.
“That means no equivocation on essential national infrastructure, from HS2 to Heathrow. It means an immigration system that is controlled but also open and welcoming. And it means fixing economic policy that isn’t working, from business rates to the apprenticeship levy.”
CBI Regional Director for the North East, Sarah Glendinning, said: “The next Prime Minister must back up his campaign promises and prove to be indisputably pro-business.
“By backing business, the Government can ensure the North East benefits from enterprise, jobs and growth. We have clear ideas about how to move the North East forward and we hope to create a new partnership of business and government.
“The CBI and the 190,000 firms we represent are committed to a partnership that delivers for communities across the country. We urge the new Prime Minister to work with us.”