Investment zones also under the microscope

Cuts to HS2 will be considered as the government seeks to raise tens of billions of pounds, Michael Gove has said.

New prime minister Rishi Sunak and chancellor Jeremy Hunt are reportedly aiming to raise £50bn in the autumn statement, to be achieved through a combination of tax increases and spending cuts.

The UK’s biggest infrastructure project will apparently not be immune, with the levelling up minister telling Times Radio that “everything will be reviewed” in response to a question on the high-speed rail project.

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Opponents of the scheme say the link is costing too much money that should be spent elsewhere

Last week, a six-monthly update on the scheme revealed it was unlikely to meet its £40.3bn target cost with a further £200m of reserve cash spent since the spring – although it remains within its overall budget.

The Department for Transport has instructed HS2 Ltd to find savings and efficiencies to bring projected costs back in line with targets.

Gove, who returned to cabinet last week, said: “As a result of different factors, including mistakes that were made at the mini-budget, we have got to make some decisions, which will be painful.

“When we face the particularly economic problems that we have at the moment, I’m sure that some capital spending will be cut.”

Jason Millett, chief executive for Mace Consult, recently told Building that “any reduction to the project will inevitably have a chilling impact on our industry”.

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A government spokesperson said: “HS2 is under way, within budget, and supporting 28,000 jobs. The government remains committed to delivering it on time and to budget.

“As the latest report to parliament sets out, current cost pressures are covered within the existing budget and we continue to identify areas where savings and efficiencies can be made.”

Mark Thurston, chief executive at HS2 Ltd, said: “HS2 is delivering growth for the UK economy today. Our contract awards are helping small businesses across the UK to grow and sustain their workforces, and nearly 30,000 people are benefitting from skilled jobs with a long-term future.

“By supporting apprentices and the unemployed into meaningful careers on HS2 we’re creating the next generation of engineers and construction workers, a trend that will continue as our construction programme gathers momentum going North.”

Gove also said over the weekend that he would be reviewing former prime minister Liz Truss’ proposals for investment zones to stimulate growth around the UK, emphasising that environmental protections would not be sacrificed.

“Anything that might in any way undermine environmental protections is out,” he told Sky News.