Labour Party conference: Future of HS2 in doubt as Ed Balls warns of veto

Announcement marks a significant change of policy

Deputy Political Editor

Ed Balls threw the future of the high-speed rail line into doubt on Monday night – and risked a clash with Ed Miliband – as he warned he was ready to veto the controversial £50bn scheme if Labour wins the next general election.

The shadow Chancellor told The Independent fringe meeting that he was not prepared to write a “blank cheque” to fund HS2, the biggest rail project in generations.

Promising a review of the proposals by an incoming Labour government, he said: “We’ve got to make it clear we are not going to go ahead regardless.

“For every billion we spend on HS2 is a billion pounds we cannot spend on roads, cross country rail, affordable houses, hospitals and schools.

“It is not about whether HS2 is a good project it is about whether it is the best use of resources. If it is, then we will go ahead.”

His intervention will raise questions over whether the project, conceived by the last Labour government and enthusiastically supported by David Cameron, will get the go-ahead given the need for cross-party consensus for such large schemes.

Mr Balls’s comments came days after Mr Miliband told a Sunday newspaper: “I support HS2 and I think it’s the right thing to do for the country.”

The shadow Chancellor told the packed fringe meeting, sponsored by RSA Insurance: “HS2’s costs have gone up by billions in just a few months. There are real questions whether the way it has been designed and managed adds up.”

He said the project dwarfed the 2012 London Olympics and needed to be subjected to detailed scrutiny to ensure it was “the best way to spend £50bn”.

Mr Balls admitted Labour had found it more difficult to refute claims that the party was responsible for the economic downturn because Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats had signed up to austerity “to buy a place in the Coalition Government”.

“It was all blamed on us,” he said. “[Liberal Democrat support for the Tories] made things tougher for us.”

But he said he had no regrets at opposing austerity in 2010 and calling for spending increases – even though the economy has now improved.

Mr Balls was asked about the revelations in Damian McBride’s book and the vitriolic briefings by senior ministers against each other when Labour were in power.

He admitted that when he worked for Mr Brown before the 1997 election neither Tony Blair or the then Shadow Chancellor showed each other their conferences speeches until 11pm on the night before they were due to deliver them.

“It turned out they both had exactly the same ending,” he said, with Mr Brown eventually having to back down and re-write his speech.

Mr Balls said he had been shown Mr Miliband’s speech two weeks ago.

The shadow Chancellor said his plans to subject Labour’s economic plans to scrutiny by the Office for Budget Responsibility would stop ministers “making accusations about the opposition that have no basis in fact.”

He said it would look “nakedly political” if George Osborne sought to resist the move.

The shadow Chancellor promised activists they would be sent a list of “credible, paid-for” Labour policy commitments by Saturday.

Earlier, in his conference address, Mr Balls warned delegates that a Labour government taking office would have to take unpalatable decisions as it imposed an “iron discipline” on tax and spending because it would inherit a £90bn deficit.

He reminded them that Labour would adopt the Coalition’s plans for 2015-16 for current spending and added: “We will have to govern with less money around. The next Labour government will have to make cuts too.”

Mr Balls made an impassioned plea for activists to defend the last Government’s record and paid tribute to Mr Miliband as “my friend, our leader and Britain’s next Prime Minister”.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan