Is HS2 support coming off the rails? Consensus rocked by Labour and Lib Dem concern

Cost of high-speed rail link from London to the North is currently put at £50bn

Political Editor

The all-party consensus in favour of the proposed high-speed rail link from London to the North is under strain amid growing Labour and Liberal Democrat concern about the £50bn project.

Although Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg remain strongly committed to HS2, senior figures in their parties have begun to air their private doubts in public. This has worried Conservative ministers, who are keen to maintain cross-party backing for the scheme.

Ed Balls, the shadow Chancellor, warned today there could be no "blank cheque" for the link, which will run initially from London to Birmingham and later be extended to Leeds and Manchester. "We need to keep a close eye on value for money," he said, adding that he was "concerned about rising costs" after the budget was raised by £8bn.

While he insisted that, as a Leeds MP, he saw the benefits of HS2 and still supported it, he is the first Shadow Cabinet member to cast doubt about Labour's commitment to it. Former Cabinet ministers Alistair Darling and Lord Mandelson have declared their opposition to the project. So has Labour's newly-appointed "business ambassador" Lord (Parry) Mitchell, an internet entrepreneur. He told Parliament's The House magazine: "The key factor for infrastructure projects is: does it improve our nation's productivity…..I have reversed my enthusiasm for HS2. What's the economic benefit in arriving in London 30 minutes earlier at a cost of £40bn and then to be stuck on traffic on the Euston Road?" He predicted that technological advances would make business travel "almost irrelevant" in 20 years' time.

Asked about the cost of HS2, Vince Cable, the Lib Dem Business Secretary, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme today: "I mean, it's not necessarily something that would pass muster in academic journals, but a test of credibility has been applied to it, and has been approved by independent audit."

Lib Dem leadership sources insisted there was no "wobble" over the party's commitment to HS2. Nick Clegg, a Sheffield MP, believes it will play a crucial role in bridging the north-south divide.

It is understood that Labour leaders did consider diluting their support for the scheme before the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill won a second reading last month. They discussed made by Mr Darling and Lord Mandelson but Mr Miliband was adamant that the Opposition would maintain its solid backing.

Maria Eagle, the shadow Transport Secretary, was initially sceptical about HS2 but after reviewing the alternatives has become convinced that it is needed because there is no other way to meet the growing demand for rail capacity. Labour is rebranding it as the "North-South Rail Line" to highlight how it would narrow regional differences, in line with Mr Miliband's "One Nation Labour" vision.

An internal Labour briefing paper says: "Labour is clear that a new north-south rail line is needed to deliver the major increase in capacity needed on Britain's rail network in the years to come. Labour…will continue to provide the long term cross-party support necessary for the successful delivery of this project."

However, Labour warns that there is little chance of the legislation approving the project being passed by the 2015 election. "With construction due to begin in January 2017 - less than two years into the next parliament, ministers are now cutting it very fine indeed," Labour said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
news
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
tvChristmas special reviewed
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Sport
sport
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

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all