Chancellor Sajid Javid set to back controversial HS2 in major boost for high-speed rail project

Project’s future has been under scrutiny due to spiralling costs

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Thursday 30 January 2020 02:11 GMT
What is HS2?

Sajid Javid is expected to throw his support behind the contentious HS2 high-speed rail project, suggesting it could be given the green light by No 10 in a matter of days.

Despite considerable concerns about the spiralling cost of HS2 and opposition from Tory MPs, the chancellor will reportedly urge colleagues on Friday to approve the infrastructure scheme.

It comes as Mr Javid prepares to meet with Boris Johnson and Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, on Thursday to discuss the high-speed line from London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.

The prime minister told MPs in the Commons on Wednesday he would announce whether and how to press ahead with HS2 – a project that was estimated to cost around £56bn in 2015, but could now soar to more than £100bn.

“I just want to reassure all of my honourable friends and everybody, whatever persuasion they may be about HS2 across this chamber, that there will be an announcement and a decision very shortly,” Mr Johnson said.

According to The Financial Times, the chancellor decided to back HS2 after concluding alternatives presented to him on other ways of improving infrastructure and delivering on the Tories’ election commitment did not stack up.

But Greg Smith, the newly elected Conservative MP for Buckingham, warned that he will vote against HS2 in parliament if the government presses ahead with the project.

Mr Smith told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I was very clear in the general election campaign that I am opposed to HS2. It is absolutely wrong for my constituency and I believe it to be wrong for the country as well.

“I made very clear commitments in the general election that, come what may, I will oppose HS2.

(Getty (Getty)

“We are not against infrastructure. We are just saying that HS2 is the wrong project, it goes along the wrong route at a cost that, frankly, the nation can’t afford.”

Whitehall’s spending watchdog said this month that HS2 is over budget and behind schedule because its complexity and risks were under-estimated.

The National Audit Office warned that it is impossible to “estimate with certainty what the final cost could be”. Industry figures have also claimed that scrapping the scheme could now cost as much as £12bn.

The first phase of the plan will implement a faster rail link between London and the west midlands, and was originally due to be completed by 2026.

The second phase, building onward lines from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds, was originally due to be operational by 2032-3, but may now not be running until 2040 – if it goes ahead at all.

Speaking about the project on ITV’s Peston programme, Mr Shapps said HS2 is “probably the biggest investment, biggest infrastructure project possibly in the world, certainly in Europe, and the public would expect us to look carefully at it”.

The meeting comes as Mr Javid put pressure on cabinet colleagues to identify where cuts of 5 per cent could be made in their departmental budgets.

In a letter co-signed by Mr Johnson, he urged ministers to identify projects that could be abandoned ahead of his first Budget as chancellor in March.

The intervention was seen at Westminster as a bid to find resources to fund Tory election promises on infrastructure, health and law and order.

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