HS2 northern sections should have been built first, Grant Shapps says

12 February 2020, 08:41 | Updated: 12 February 2020, 15:58

HS2 should have been built the other way around - with tracks laid first in northern England then extended south, the transport secretary says.

Grant Shapps told Sky News the £100bn controversial rail project should have been sequenced differently.

Instead of the first stage focusing on slashing journey times and increasing capacity between London and Birmingham, it should instead have initially better connected Britain's second-biggest city to Crewe, Manchester and Leeds, he said.

It comes after Europe's largest infrastructure project was given the green light by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, after he ordered a review into its spiralling costs and repeated delays.

Mr Shapps told Sky News' Kay Burley@Breakfast he has backed the idea to build the northern sections first since 2014.

"Actually I agree, it would have been a good idea to have done that," he said.

"I think it would have been much better to sequence this differently."

But Mr Shapps said it was now too late to change plans.

"Here we are 10 years down the line, all the prep work - the legislation, which is complex and lengthy - and a lot of the land purchase has happened for phase one - that's London to Birmingham.

"So it’s inevitable that you have to start there first.

"Because that is where the money is, otherwise you would spend that £10bn that it's cost so far and have nothing to show for it and have to repurpose the land or just hang on to it.

"It would have been a very expensive way round."

He added: "We are where we are and we're going to get on with the sections north of Birmingham up to Crewe in particular and then up to Manchester where I am right now, as quickly as possible.”

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The idea to build the northern sections first was raised six years ago by Jim O'Neill, a former chairman of Goldman Sachs asset management who headed a commission on growing UK cities.

Mr Shapps blamed HS2 Limited - the firm in charge of its day-to-day construction - for repeated problems and claimed the whole project had been "terribly handled" and not "well led".

He claimed the scheme will be run in future "like the Olympics were run" - with a dedicated minister appointed in Thursday's cabinet reshuffle and to make sure "the whole of the state" was focused on delivering it.

Despite the government's announcement, Tory backbenchers in the south and middle England are furious at the cost to taxpayers' and threat to the environment.

Andrew Bridgen, called the project "unloved, unwanted and grossly mismanaged" that "could well be an albatross around this government and the country's neck".

While Rob Butler said he was "incredibly frustrated" given the "eye-watering costs" and "irreversible" destruction of ancient woodlands.