Jeremy Hunt hit out at inefficiency’s in major project delivery and re-iterated no formal decision had been made on HS2

The chancellor slammed the time and cost of major infrastructure delivery this afternoon but again refused to give a definitive answer on the fate of the country’s flagship infrastructure job.

Speaking at a packed fringe event at the Conservative Party conference, Jeremy Hunt questioned why it cost 10 times more to build high speed rail in the UK than in France and said the time taken to get ”a shovel in the ground” on large projects was “ridiculous”.


Source: Daniel Gayne

Jeremy Hunt speaking at a Centre for Policy Studies fringe event earlier today

Speculation over the future of HS2 has overshadowed much of this year’s conference in Manchester, with regional and rail industry leaders meeting last night to vent their frustration.

It comes after Hunt and Sunak confirmed they were re-examining the scope of the project as a result of spiralling costs.

”If we’re going to be solving the big problems that the country faces, we do have to have an answer as to why it is that it costs 10 times more to build high speed rail in this country than in France,” the chancellor said in a sit down interview with the Centre for Policy Studies.

“That is totally and utterly unacceptable. Now in an environment where there’s lots of money sloshing around maybe you can absorb that [but] the practical impact of that kind of cost increase is that you can’t spend money on other parts of the railway infrastructure.”

Hunt also appeared to question the existing planning structure for nationally significant projects.

”There are so many national policy frameworks that you have to do consultations on. Everyone wants to protect the environment, everyone wants to be fair to local residents who are impacted by new infrastructure, but it can take five years to go through all those processes,” he said.

”What we’re talking about with HS2 is exactly the same as when you’re trying to build a new runway at an airport or a new terminal at an airport.

”When we’re trying to get more clean energy on the stream or renewable energy or offshore wind farms, it can take seven years to build a new offshore wind farm, and then at the moment, it could be another seven years on top of that before you can get connected to the grid.

“That is ridiculous. So there are a lot of things that we have to do to sort out the way we build infrastructure.”

Despite his evident frustration at mounting costs, Hunt once again stressed that the government had yet to make a decision on HS2.

At an impromptu press conference yesterday, Andy Street, the tory mayor of West Midlands, said the government would be “turning [its] back on an opportunity to level up” if it abandoned the northern stretch of HS2.

“We all know the costs are escalating well beyond the budget and indeed [the chancellor] is right to try to get a grip of this situation - I fully accept that. But gripping this situation means re-examining it, it does not mean giving up, admitting defeat you could say, or even, you could say, cancelling the future,” said Street.

Asked to respond to the mayor’s comments, Hunt said: “I love Andy, he’s a fantastic mayor […] but he is speculating on what he thinks a decision might be rather than talking about what the actual decision may be. No formal decision has been made, so I don’t think it would be right for me to comment on Andy’s view of what the announcement might be.”