'Gross act of vandalism': George Osborne joins senior Tory critics and Sadiq Khan as Sunak to scrap northern leg of HS2

24 September 2023, 23:35 | Updated: 25 September 2023, 05:00

Rishi Sunak is destined to scrap the northern leg of HS2 due to spiralling costs
Rishi Sunak is destined to scrap the northern leg of HS2 due to spiralling costs. Picture: Getty

By Chay Quinn

Rishi Sunak is facing growing criticism as he looks set to scrap the northern leg of HS2 due to soaring costs.

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Meanwhile, former prime ministers Boris Johnson and David Cameron have also told Mr Sunak to reconsider his plans to cut the HS2 line short.

“This is total Treasury-driven nonsense. It makes no sense at all to deliver a mutilated HS2,” Mr Johnson told The Times.

“We need to connect the Midlands with the north with HS2 because that is the way to deliver Northern Powerhouse Rail. And it makes no sense for HS2 to terminate at Old Oak Common rather than Euston.”

George Osborne has joined a chorus of senior voices criticising the expected cancellation of HS2's northern leg
George Osborne has joined a chorus of senior voices criticising the expected cancellation of HS2's northern leg. Picture: Getty

Former Chancellor George Osborne has become the latest grandee to speak out in an interview with The Times in which he called the move a "gross act of vandalism" on the PM's part.

The Tory bigwig wrote that the move would abandon the north and the Midlands and act as an "act of economic self-harm".

It comes a day after the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, wrote to the prime minister to express his concern over plans to scrap the northern leg of HS2, as well as the reported proposal to end the high-speed rail line at Old Oak Common, rather than London Euston.

"The Government’s approach to HS2 risks squandering the huge economic opportunity that it presents and turning it instead into a colossal waste of public money," Mr Khan told the prime minister.

"If the line didn’t go to Euston, it would fail to unlock the massive potential of the area, leaving it a huge construction site, with a legacy of demolished homes, destroyed businesses and a community let down, requiring significant government investment to remedy," he continued.

Mr Khan joins a long line of critics of the prime minister's plans, including senior Tory sources, with one described Mr Sunak's plan as a "kick in the teeth" for Manchester.

Boris Johnson labelled the potential plans 'Treasury-driven nonsense'.
Boris Johnson labelled the potential plans 'Treasury-driven nonsense'. Picture: Getty

While two sources close to Mr Cameron told the outlet that the former PM had privately expressed concerns about the reported plans.

“It’s unusual for him — he’s tended to stay out of politics ever since he left,” one said.

Despite this, they went onto add that HS2 was the “central infrastructure project” of Mr Cameron’s government and that not only does he believe is it important to levelling up the country, but that it is also a “totemic Conservative pledge”.

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HS2 was set up in 2015 with a budget of £55.7bn with the goal of linking London, the Midlands and the North of England with the high-speed railway. Reports suggest this budget has now exceeded £100bn.

It comes after Chancellor Jeremy Hunt expressed concerns over the project, as he told LBC: “We are looking at all the options. But we do need to find a way of delivering infrastructure projects that doesn’t cost taxpayers billions and billions of pounds.”

Chris Philp is unable to confirm HS2 Birmingham to Manchester leg

Mr Osborne has also made his opposition to the plans clear, as he warned it would be a “big blow” to levelling up goals. He also pushed for the project to reach the North West.

Ministers will need to reach a decision about the future of the line in the coming weeks to allow the Office for Budget Responsibility, the fiscal watchdog, enough time to amend forecasts before the autumn statement.

Labour says it is committed to building HS2 in full but party leader Sir Keir Starmer has appeared reluctant to declare that, if elected to No 10 at the next election, he would ensure it reaches Manchester.

Opposition party sources have suggested they do not want to go further than ministers by promising to complete the project because they may then need to find additional funding.

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