Former Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said over the weekend that it would be “crazy” not to review plans for HS2 in light of soaring costs.
Speaking to Sky News, Mr Shapps said: “It is the case that all of these big decisions where budgets are … inexorably going higher and higher and higher… that the government looks at and says ‘hold on a minute, is this just an open-ended check, or are we going to make sure that this project get delivered to a pace and a timetable that actually works for the taxpayer. We take those long term seriously.”
The future of HS2’s northern extension has been under intense scrutiny since 14 September, when Downing Street refused to confirm whether the government remained committed to extending the line to Manchester.
An official was photographed carrying a document relating to a meeting between Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, which included a “savings table” showing the costs of each part of the scheme north of Birmingham. The story was first reported by The Independent.
In a Westminster briefing with journalists, the prime minister’s spokesperson said the government needed to balance the interests of “passengers and taxpayers”.
Asked whether Mr Sunak was committed to the line going to Manchester, the spokesman did not confirm whether it would, saying: “We are committed to HS2, to the project.”
With its Leeds leg cut two years ago, and its Birmingham-Crewe section delayed by two years, the speculation brings further concern, if not surprise, for the north, whose leaders have reacted angrily.
Speaking to Sky News, Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, said: “Why is it that people in the North are always forced to choose? Why are we always treated as second class citizens when it comes to transport?
“This was the parliament that said they’d level us up. If they leave a situation where the southern half of the country is connected by modern high-speed lines, and the North of England is left with Victorian infrastructure, that is a recipe for the North-South divide to become a North-South chasm over the rest of this century.”
Image credit: HS2