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Tue, 22 September 2020

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Tory MPs split as Boris Johnson says he has 'guts' to press ahead with HS2 despite spiralling costs

Tory MPs split as Boris Johnson says he has 'guts' to press ahead with HS2 despite spiralling costs
5 min read

Conservative MPs have given a mixed reaction as Boris Johnson boasted he had the "guts" to press ahead with the controversial High Speed 2 rail link.

The Prime Minister said the Cabinet had given the "green signal" to the controversial infrastructure project, despite a backlash from some Tory backbenchers who are concerned over spiralling costs and delays.

Mr Johnson said a Government-ordered review hd made the "clinching case" for the high-speed rail plans, which will see London linked with Birmingham in the first stage, with a second phase delivering new links between Manchester and Leeds.

But the Prime Minister attempted to see off a backbench rebellion as he announced he would be appointing a new minister to oversee delivery of the project and launched a scathing attacking on the "poor management" of HS2 Ltd, the firm currently responsible for building the line.

In a statement to MPs, the Prime Minister said the government had taken the "difficult and controversial" decision as he claimed the country was being "held back by inadequate infrastructure".

"We can try to get by with the existing routes from north to south," he said. "We can consign the next generation to overcrowding, standing up in the carriageways or we can have the guts to take a decision, no matter how difficult... and controversial that will deliver prosperity to everybody in every part of the country."

He added: "A vast increase in capacity, with hundreds of thousands of extra seats, making it much easier for travellers to move up and down our long, narrow country.

"That means faster journey times...not just more capactiy. Extraordinally fast journey times. Passengers arriving at Birmingham airport will be able to get to central London by train in 38 minutes, which compares favourably with the time it takes to get from Heathrow by taxi."


In a bid to calm anger from his own MPs, Mr Johnson said he had taken "decisive action" to restore "discipline" to the project by handing responsbility to a new ministerial team - and accused HS2 Ltd of letting costs "explode".

"Speaking as a MP whose constituency is on the route, I cannot say that HS2 Ltd has distinguished itself in the handling of local communities," he said. 

"As everybody knows, the forecast, the cost forecasts has exploded, but poor management to date has not detracted, in my view, from the fundamental values of the project."

He added: "I will be appointing a minister whose full time job will be to oversee the project, and new ministerial oversight group will be tasked to take strategic decisions about it. 

"There will be changes to how HS2 is managed, we interrogating the current costs to identify where savings can be made in phase one without the costs and delays that would be associated with a detailed redesign."


But the announcement drew criticism from some Tory MPs, with Staffordshire MP Bill Cash saying his constituents would be "bitterly disappointed" by the decision, and Lichfield's Michael Fabricant saying he was "less-than-enthusiastic" about its proposed route.

North West Leicestershire MP Andrew Bridgen added: "HS2 is unloved, unwanted and has been grossly mismanaged. 

"It very adversely affects my constituents. Does the Prime Minister appreciate mine and my constituents’ concerns that this could well be an albatross around this government’s and the country’s neck moving forward?

"And doesn’t it set the bar very low for the future delivery of infrastructure projects on time and on budget by all future governments?"

Other longstanding critics of the scheme appeared to accept the scheme would go ahead, however, with Banbury MP Victoria Prentis, who heads up the HS2 Review Group of MPs saying: "The last three years have given us a few lessons in what gracious defeat looks like, and while I remain worried about the environmental, financial and governance issues of this project I really do wish it all the best.

She added: "I was particularly pleased to hear what the Prime Minister said about the northern section and the speed by which he needs to deliver that."


Bring and Goole MP Andrew Percy meanwhile enthusiastically backed the scheme, telling the Prime Minister: "We've had the fluffy end of the lollipop for too long in the north for transport funding, so I am absolutely made up by this decision on HS2."

The move has also been welcomed by the CBI business lobby group, which said HS2 was "exactly the sort of bold, decisive action required to inject confidence in the economy".

The group's policy director Matthew Fell added: “HS2 shows the government’s commitment to levelling up the nations and regions of the UK. The project will bring jobs, new homes, skills and investment to the areas of the country that need them most.

"Once built, HS2 will bring much needed capacity to our railways and help to realise the government’s promise of an ‘infrastructure revolution’ for the North, Midlands and beyond.

"The time for debate over HS2 is over and the time for delivery is now.”

But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accused the Government of "abject failure" for failing to control costs on the long-running project.

"Today’s proposed boardroom shakeup comes far too late to avoid the public having to fork out tens of billions of pounds more than was forecast," he said.

"This has been a tale of gross Conservative incompetence."


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