End of the line? HS2 rail link project in doubt as Labour prepares to drop backing for £50bn scheme - UK Politics - UK - The Independent

End of the line? HS2 rail link project in doubt as Labour prepares to drop backing for £50bn scheme

Lord Mandelson condemned the scheme, saying it would 'suck the very life blood' out of the rest of the rail network

The future of the High Speed 2 rail project is in growing doubt as Labour prepared to drop its backing for the £50bn scheme and the Tory rebellion against the proposed line gathered pace.

Despite David Cameron’s outspoken support for HS2, fears are intensifying within Downing Street that the Government will be forced to abandon the largest rail building project for a generation, The Independent understands.

There are also concerns in Whitehall that ministers could struggle to obtain the private finance essential for the scheme to go ahead. In another sign that the project is in trouble, Mr Cameron changed his language and prepared the ground for blaming Labour if it collapses.

In a Commons debate next week, ministers will make a fresh attempt to set out the case for HS2, which would connect London and Birmingham by the year 2026 and the North of England by 2033. At least 30 Conservative MPs are ready to defy their party whip and vote against preparatory work on the project.

The Labour leadership will vote with the Government next week and Ed Miliband supports the scheme. But there are signs the party is rapidly becoming sceptical about the merits of HS2 and could drop its support next year when crucial legislation is due before Parliament.

Ed Balls, the shadow Chancellor, told the Labour conference last month there could be “no blank cheque” for the project. Party sources indicated that Mr Balls was increasingly hostile to HS2 and that support for the scheme was “cooling” within the shadow Cabinet.

Mr Balls said he backed it in principle but stressed: “What I am not going to do is say we support it when the costs are rising, the benefits are unclear and the Government are acting like cheerleaders rather than proper stewards of public money.”

The HS2 scheme was devised by Gordon Brown’s government and adopted by the Coalition. But Mr Cameron has been besieged with protests from Conservatives in the shire counties through which the high-speed line would be built.

Anger over the project spilled over in a recent private meeting between the Prime Minister and chairmen of local constituency parties, who queued up to warn him it was a waste of money and would hit the party at the ballot box. A Tory source said: “He was told pretty bluntly there would be a lot of political pain without much political gain.”

Asked about wavering Labour backing for HS2, Mr Cameron said: “This is an important project, it does have all-party support. We supported it in opposition when Labour were in government. Labour support it today, as I understand it, now we are in government.

“The Liberal Democrat party support it as well, and that is all to the good because these multi-year multi-Parliament infrastructure projects can’t go ahead without all-party support. You won’t get the investment, you can’t have the consistency.” He added: “If Labour are to run away from this, they will be letting down the Midlands, they will be letting down the North.”

Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, told BBC Radio 2: “I cannot understand why Labour is turning its back on HS2. That is a monumental betrayal of the North by Labour.”

Tory critics have been heartened by the apparent change of heart by Labour. The former Cabinet minister Cheryl Gillan said: “This isn’t really the project that the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Transport should be hanging their hats on. The problem is that this project dwarfs anything else… so you have to have substantial cross-party support.”

Andrew Bridgen, the MP for North West Leicestershire, who is coordinating a backbench opposition campaign to HS2, said: “The more people find out about HS2, the less they like it.” He predicted: “One way or another, there won’t be one yard of track laid.”

Bob Woollard, the chairman of Conservative Grassroots organisation, said: “Opposition to this is growing and will continue to grow. The Prime Minister has got to start listening to his own grassroots supporters.”

The Government’s estimated price tag for HS2, including rolling stock, has risen to £50.1bn. One independent study estimated the eventual cost at £80bn, while there have been reports the Treasury is working on a figure of more than £70bn.

Critics of the scheme include the Commons Public Accounts Select Committee, the Institute of Directors, the Institute of Economic Affairs think-tank and two senior Labour figures – Alistair Darling, the former Chancellor, and Lord Mandelson, the former Business Secretary.

In a withering attack on the scheme in the Lords on Thursday, Lord Mandelson condemned it as a “political trophy project” which would “suck the very life blood” out of the rest of the rail network.

Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape
music
News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
filmMatt Damon in talks to return
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Life and Style
tech... and together they're worth at least £100 million
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig is believed to be donning skies as 007 for the first time
Arts and Entertainment
Fringe show: 'Cilla', with Sheridan Smith in the title role and Aneurin Barnard as her future husband Bobby Willis
tvEllen E Jones on ITV's 'Cilla'
Life and Style
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
tech(but you can't escape: Bono is always on your iPhone)
Sport
Tim Wiese
sport
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Programme Test Manager

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are currently seekin...

Secondary supply teachers needed in Peterborough

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Secondary supply teac...

Modern Foreign Languages Teacher

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: Full time German Supply Teacher...

Project Manager with some Agile experience

£45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsf...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week