HS2: chancellor confirms review amid ‘out of control costs’

HS2 Manchester Piccadilly station CGI

The planned HS2 Manchester Piccadilly Station

Chancellor of the exchequer Jeremy Hunt has confirmed the northern leg of HS2 is under review as he criticised the ballooning costs of the scheme.

In an interview on LBC Radio on Thursday evening (21 September), Hunt was asked if he could commit that the HS2 leg to Manchester would definitely be built.

“I’m not going to comment on discussions that are happening at the moment,” he said. “As chancellor you would expect me to be having discussions with the prime minister when major infrastructure projects overrun in their costs and that’s what we’re facing with HS2.”

When it was put to him that MPs in seats in northern England would be concerned about the prospect of the megaproject not reaching their areas, he again criticised the costs.

“They will also be worried if we have an infrastructure project where the costs are getting totally out of control and that’s why you would expect me as chancellor to be having discussions,” he said. “We haven’t made any decisions on this, we’re looking at all the options but we do need to find a way of delivering infrastructure projects in a way that doesn’t cost taxpayers billions and billions of pounds.”

HS2 told ministers at the start of the year that phase one – from Euston to Birmingham – would exceed its target cost of £40.3bn.

In January, Hunt denied reports that Euston would be scrapped as the main London terminus, but in March the Department for Transport (DfT) announced that phase 2a to Manchester and construction of the £4.8bn Euston terminus would be delayed due to rising costs.

In June, the DfT said it would look to revise the design for Euston and potentially partner with new private sector companies to deliver it.

HS2 chief executive Mark Thurston announced his resignation in July.

Last week, The Independent published a photograph of a document being held by Hunt that appeared to show calculations of savings to be made from scrapping different parts of the project, fuelling speculation that the Manchester leg would be axed, as the eastern leg to Leeds was in 2021.

Civil Engineering Contractors Association chief executive Alasdair Reisner last week said that cancelling the route would undermine the UK economy.

“No British government has made such a short-sighted and self-harming decision since Harold Wilson’s administration stopped work on the Channel Tunnel in the mid-1970s,” he said.

“Cancelling the second leg of HS2 would not only make the UK an international laughing stock: it will actively undermine the life-chances of generations of Britons, harm our ability to fight climate change, and destroy trust in politics to deliver on a better future for us all.”

HS2 has been approached for comment.

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