Birmingham Mayor Is "Disappointed" But Not Resigning Over HS2 Curb
Rishi Sunak at Conservative Party conference in Manchester (Alamy)
Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street has said that he will not follow through on apparent threats to resign over the government’s decision to scrap HS2 from Birmingham to Manchester but is “disappointed” by the move.
Street said on Wednesday that he has thought “incredibly long and hard” about his future in the party, after Rishi Sunak confirmed that the high-speed line would not run north of Birmingham.
The decision to curtail the project has sparked criticism from regional leaders across the parties, with Labour’s Andy Burnham saying that it has been a “highly frustrating week” for his team after the row over the future of HS2 exploded during Conservative Party Conference in Manchester.
Sunak used his conference speech to confirm widespread speculation that the £36bn saved by cancelling the line to Manchester would be spent on other transport projects across rail and road, including what he called the “Network North” project.
Former John Lewis boss Street pledged to work with Whitehall to “continue the revival of the West Midlands” and hopes that the project can “find a way to get back on track”.
“I know this decision will make me deeply unpopular in some circles, and indeed many wanted me to resign and make a statement against my party," he said.
“But I have always said that I would put place before party, and staying as a Conservative to work with the Prime Minister and his government to continue the revival of the West Midlands is doing exactly that.”
The news that Street would not quit over HS2 will be a relief to Downing Street. Throughout this week’s conference, Street has pushed the merits of engaging private sector investment into the project, and told reporters earlier this week that he has been engaging with businesses who would be willing to come forward and offer to help the project.
But Burnham has expressed his frustration that his team had “not been consulted” over the plans, despite ministers being in the same city this week.
Addressing reporters in Manchester this afternoon, he said it has been a “highly frustrating week for us”.
“I don't see how you can take a plan that goes beyond the life of any individual government – or goes beyond the interests of any one political party given it goes all the way through the country – how you can take that plan and basically tear it up at a party conference," he added.
“Surely this should be done on a cross party consultative basis. But we have not been consulted this week, a week when our city has done its best to play host to the government.”
The move has sparked contrasting opinions from Conservative figures.
Former prime minister David Cameraon called the decision to scrap the line "the wrong one", that will "help to fuel the views of those who argue that we can no longer think or act for the long-term as a country".
He posted on social media this afternoon and said that Sunak's plan "throws away fifteen years of cross-party consensus" that spanned six administrations.
He added: "I regret this decision and in years to come I suspect many will look back at today’s announcement and wonder how this once-in-a-generation opportunity was lost."
However, Greg Smith, the Conservative MP for Buckingham and member of transport committee described the announcement as “incredible progress" and insisted that the government should go further in reducing spend on the project.
“There will be more pressure to scrap the whole thing," he told PoliticsHome. “This isn’t over, we need to get rid of Phase One.”
Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith said that the cost of HS2 was “out of control” and the priority was to increase connectivity between cities across the north and Midlands.
"I think the key thing is to redevelop the north, northern cities, the great cities, and then they become competitors to London," he said
"I think we have a great opportunity to create three serious destinations for capital investment in England rather than invariably just the one which is in London."
Labour’s shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said the news is “emblematic of 13 years of dismal failure by this broken government”.
"This staggering Tory fiasco has seen costs soar, and the North and Midlands are left to pay the price,"
“Only after 13 years of dismal failure could the Conservatives make the centre piece of their conference a re-announcement of promises the Conservatives have made before.”
Additional reporting by Tom Scotson
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