British cabinet minister Grant Shapps on Sunday emphasised the mounting costs of plans for a high-speed rail line serving northern England, which Prime Minister Rishi Sunak may decide to formally axe in coming days.
Shapps declined to confirm newspaper reports that the Manchester to Birmingham leg of the HS2 line will be scrapped, but told Sky News: “Money is not infinite.”
“It is absolutely right that the government looks at it and says – hold on a minute, is this just a sort of open-ended cheque, or are we going to make sure this project gets delivered to a pace and a timetable that actually works for the taxpayer?”
A move to cancel the northern leg of HS2 would mark Sunak’s latest abandonment of earlier pledges. Last week he slowed the pace of key climate change measures, including a ban on the sale of new petrol-powered cars.
Sunak – whose Conservatives are trailing in opinion polls behind the opposition Labour Party ahead of an expected election next year – has said he is making tough choices that strike the right balance between aspiration and cost.
Business leaders and regional politicians in the north of England reacted with dismay at indications that HS2 will be pared back to just its initial phase from London to Birmingham.
“Why are we always treated as second-class citizens when it comes to transport?” Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, from Labour, told Sky News.
The government has repeatedly cited the spiralling construction costs of HS2 as well as the billions of pounds of government debt accumulated in the economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The government in 2015 set a budget of more than 55 billion pounds ($67 billion) for the whole of HS2 but an official review in 2020 showed the cost had increased to around 106 billion.
Sunak is expected to make an announcement concerning HS2 this week, ahead of his party’s annual conference in Manchester starting on Oct. 1.
(Reporting by Andy Bruce; Editing by David Holmes)