Politicians should have the right to change direction, says Rishi Sunak as he defends decision to scrap HS2 north

6 October 2023, 16:57 | Updated: 6 October 2023, 17:51

Rishi Sunak spoke to LBC's Tom Swarbrick
Rishi Sunak spoke to LBC's Tom Swarbrick. Picture: LBC/Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

Politicians should have the right to change direction, Rishi Sunak has said as he defended his decision to scrap HS2 north.

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Speaking to LBC's Tom Swarbrick, Mr Sunak said "the facts have changed" and the economic rationale has changed.

He said the fresh plans would give local people more power in deciding where money is spent moving forward and they would see the benefits very quickly.

"When the facts change, politicians should have the courage to change direction," the PM said.

"I’m fresh to this and I fundamentally think that if we’re going to spend £36 billion we’re better off spending the money on hundreds of other projects around the country that will benefit people faster and in lots of different ways."

He explained: "This project was greenlit over a decade ago, since then the costs have more than doubled, we’ve had a pandemic which totally changed how people travel, the economic rationale for it has changed and the evidence that we now have is that there’s different forms of transportation that we need to invest in if we really want to increase opportunity and create great jobs."

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Rishi Sunak: The 'facts have changed' on HS2

Mr Sunak went on to say: "It shouldn’t be a Westminster politician making that decision for the people of the north east.

"It’s right that local leaders in those areas are given the funding and able to make the decisions that are right for their area.

"What this represents is a massive transfer of resources to local areas to spend on the priorities that are important to them.

"I think that’s just the better use of that £36 billion."

On Wednesday, at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, Mr Sunak announced the widely expected axing of the HS2 project from Birmingham to Manchester - citing a doubling of costs for the project.

As part of a drive to create a new northern network, he pledged to invest in a raft of other transport schemes.

The move has been met with fury, including among former senior Tories David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson, as well as Manchester's mayor Andy Burnham.

But the PM argued on Friday that people "do want to see change" and that "requires a change in how we approach these decisions".

He said a priority needs to be connecting cities in the north to make it easier to get around them.

It comes after Labour's Sir Keir Starmer refused to commit to reversing Mr Sunak's decision if he came into power, saying it was partly down to the government "already talking about releasing the land that would have been needed" to see HS2 reach Manchester.

Starmer has insisted a Labour government would be "laser-focused on growing our economy in all parts of the country - that means we need better connectivity".