Prime Minister dodges questions on the future of HS2 over 'enormous' cost

Tuesday, 3rd October 2023

Rishi Sunak has refused to confirm he will scrap the northern leg of the HS2 line despite widespread expectation that he will axe the project due to “enormous” costs.

The Prime Minister said the price of the scheme had gone “far beyond” what was originally planned but declined to publicly say he would save billions by cancelling the Birmingham to Manchester leg.

Mr Sunak, in Manchester for the Conservative Party conference, could use his set-piece speech on Wednesday to announce the decision but is likely to soften the blow by spending on other projects for the north.

In a clear hint that he is considering changing course on HS2, during a series of morning interviews he repeatedly referenced his decision to water down the timings for a series of net zero measures, suggesting that showed he was prepared to make tough long-term choices.

“It’s clear that the costs of this programme have escalated far beyond what anyone thought at the beginning,” Mr Sunak told Times Radio.

“I know there’s lots of speculation on it but what I would say is I’ll approach this in the same way I approach everything in this job, I will take the time to look at it properly, get across the detail and then decide what’s right for the country.

“The sums involved are enormous and it’s right that the Prime Minister takes proper care over it.

“It’s obviously not my money – it’s taxpayers’ money and we should make the right decisions on these things.”

The HS2 scheme was given a budget of £55.7 billion in 2015 but costs have ballooned, pushing the cost to an estimate of up to £98 billion in 2019 prices.

Since then soaring inflation will have pushed costs even higher.

The Prime Minister is expected to hold an emergency Cabinet meeting to sign off the measures during his party conference in the city most directly hit by the cut to HS2.

A decision to scrap the northern leg of HS2 would also be overruling the concerns of Tory former prime ministers Boris Johnson, Theresa May and David Cameron.

And the chaotic handling of the announcement, which has been the subject of briefings and leaks for weeks, has threatened to overshadow a conference which is intended as a pre-election showcase for Tory policies.

But Mr Sunak insisted “actually we’re having a great conference” and “the mood here is great”.