Tory Mayor Vows To Not Let Government Scrap HS2 "Without A Fight"
Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street has vowed that he will not let the government scrap HS2 from Birmingham to Manchester “without a fight”.
Street told Rishi Sunak that he has a “very stark” choice in front of him over the future of HS2, and warned that he would be throwing away a “once in a generation” opportunity to “level up” if he scales back the project.
Speculation is mounting that the PM is set to scrap the leg from the West Midlands to the North West, and the row exploded at Conservative party conference on Monday, following reports that Number 10 has come to a final decision.
Number 10 has said that such reports are “incorrect”.
Speaking to huddled journalists at the conference in Manchester this afternoon, former John Lewis boss Street said that HS2 has “become about a lot more than just a railway".
He added: “This has become a debate about Britain’s ability to do the tough stuff successfully.”
He urged ministers to think about how they engage with the private sector. “My suggestion to the Prime Minister tonight as he considers all these rumours is that there is a choice in front of him," Street continued.
“The choice, very stark. Either as the rumours say, cancel Euston, cancel to Manchester, but you will be turning your back on an opportunity to level up, a once in a generation opportunity. You will indeed be damaging our international reputation as a place to invest.
“Or the alternative is to work with us, engage with us. Fully embrace the private sector, hear out what they could do to find a way that we can still build this national piece of infrastructure, in a way that we can afford”.
He later tweeted a picture of the briefing, and said that he “wasn’t expecting this in Manchester, but I won’t let HS2 go without a fight”.
Earlier today Street spoke at a fringe event at which he told ministers they “bloody well have to stick to your word” when it comes to encouraging investment.
Street’s briefing outside the conference hotel came just minutes after Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham spoke to press, and called on government to “end this shambles”.
“You can’t take decisions of this magnitude in the way that you are doing,” Burnham said.
“We at least deserve a hearing, we at least deserve a conversation about how we see things.”
Conservative MP for Mansfield Ben Bradley told PoliticsHome that he would want to know what the government would spend the money on if they get rid of the second HS2 leg.
The eastern leg of the route, from Birmingham to Leeds, was scrapped two years ago under Boris Johnson.
“For us in East Midlands, if they didn't do the Eastern leg as planned, we've kind of been expecting that for a long time," Bradley said.
“There are versions and different routes and upgrades that would tick the same boxes for us that will be cheaper, so I'm kind of pragmatic about it: my question will be if not that then what?"
Opposition parties have jumped on the confusion, calling the situation a “fiasco” and “mired in chaos”.
“This fiasco shows the Conservatives are too divided and too distracted to take this country forward," shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said.
“After weeks of chaos and indecision on the biggest infrastructure project in the country, Rishi Sunak’s relaunch is now coming off the rails.”
Liberal Democrat transport spokesperson, Wera Hobhouse added: “Rishi Sunak using a conference in Manchester to cancel the Northern leg of HS2 would make Liz Truss look like a political genius.
"Yet again, a Conservative Party conference has become mired in chaos while the country suffers."
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “These reports are incorrect. No final decisions have been taken on Phase 2 of HS2."
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe