Proposals to turn scheme into Birmingham-West London shuttle could save £34bn

The prime minister and chancellor are facing mounting pressure from regional leaders of all political stripes after rumours they planned to scrap major part of HS2. 

Earlier this week, senior government sources were quoted as saying Rishi Sunak had “made up his mind” to scrap both the northern section and the connection from Old Oak Common into central London. 


Source: HM Treasury

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, pictured addressing Treasury staff earlier this month, is expected to make an announcement concerning HS2 in his autumn statement in November

But heavy criticism from regional business and political leaders, including from his own party, may have weakened the prime minister’s resolve, with The Independent reporting that he and his chancellor had got “cold feet” over the cut. 

The Treasury believes its proposal to ice the scheme – nicknamed Project Redwood – would save £34bn in planned spending but leave £2.3bn in spent funds unrecoverable. 

But the notion of ending the line in the West Midlands was criticised by the Conservative mayor of the region, Andy Street, who said the business case only made sense if it was built in full. 

“It makes perfect sense for the prime minister and chancellor to keep it under review and regularly look at the best ways to deliver the project for the taxpayer,” a spokesperson for Street said. 

“That is very different to ‘scrapping’ some or all of HS2. Remember, the business case only stacks up if the line is built in full - which is what should happen.” 

“Andy fought tooth and nail to win this once-in-a-generation investment for the West Midlands, and he has no intention of reopening the argument.” 

Meanwhile, Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester, where the line is currently intended to terminate in the north, told the Guardian newspaper that the suggested cut would leave the north struggling with “Victorian infrastructure”. 

“Why does the north of England have to choose between a good east-west line and north-south? London has both,” he said. 

Senior representatives Burnham’s own party have issued a series of contradictory statements regarding its position on the high-speed line in recent days. 

At the weekend, shadow cabinet minister Pat McFadden said Labour would need to see the scheme’s revised costs before making a final decision, only for his frontbench colleague Nick Thomas-Symonds to firmly commit to the scheme on BBC Radio 4. 

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Shadow treasury minister Tulip Siddiq later told Times Radio that Thomas-Symonds “maybe knows something I don’t”, saying she “would not be a very responsible shadow Treasury minister if I didn’t look at the final costs”. 

An updated costing for HS2, which is currently costed in 2019 prices, is not expected to be completed until before the next spending round next year. 

Party leader Keir Starmer gave a vague statement on the scheme during a visit to Paris this week. 

“We’ve always supported it and I think the government needs to end the chaos now, make a statement and make clear that it will hold good on the promises it has made,” he told broadcasters. 

“The only doubt that has been cast now, and the only reason we are having this discussion, is because it’s now possible that they are going to fail on yet another infrastructure project.”