Transport secretary Mark Harper ‘looking at options’ on HS2 rail link ahead of expected spending cuts | Politics News


The new transport secretary has said the government is “looking at all of the options” over HS2 ahead of expected spending cuts.

Mark Harper would not commit to the plan for building the high speed rail project in full, saying “no decision has been made” on the Leeds to Manchester link.

HS2, along with Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), is a multi-billion pound project intended to create fast rail links between London and major cities in the Midlands and North of England.

Phase one will open between 2029 and 2033 and run from London to Birmingham over 134 miles.

However, phase two – which runs from Birmingham to Manchester via Crewe and had originally carried on to Leeds – has been shrouded in confusion after former prime minister Boris Johnson scrapped plans for a high speed link connecting Manchester and Leeds via Bradford – a decision his successor Liz Truss, while she was briefly prime minister, said she would reverse.

Asked if he will be “upholding what Liz Truss promised”, Mr Harper told Sky News the government “remains committed to delivering high speed two on time and within budget”.

Integrated Rail Plan
In 2019, the government watered down its high speed rail plans, axing fast links between Leeds and Manchester via Bradford

But, pressed specifically on the line between Manchester and Leeds with a stop in Bradford, he said: “I think it’s fair to say things that the former prime minister (said), as Rishi Sunak made clear when he became prime minister, that for all the best motives, a number of mistakes were made.

“And he was elected as prime minister in part to fix them.”

Mr Harper acknowledged the Conservatives have made a manifesto commitment to get high speed trains to Leeds.

He said the government will be looking at “all the options” in light of decisions being taken in the autumn statement – when spending cuts and tax rises are expected as part of a plan to plug the UK’s £40bn black hole.

“And then we’ll be setting our plans in due course,” he said.

Calls for the full implementation of HS2 are loudest within the Tory red wall MPs who see it as a way to solidify their standing in northern seats.

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Transport secretary ‘looking at all the options’ on HS2

But there are complaints from the more fiscally hawkish wings of the Conservative Party as they see it as a waste of money swaddled in bureaucracy and delays.

The project has been beset by delays and rising costs with some estimates putting the total price tag at more than £100bn.

Before Ms Truss’s intervention over the Northern Powerhouse Rail link, the government said as part of its Integrated Rail Plan it wanted to build 40 miles of newbuild high speed line between Warrington, Manchester and Yorkshire (to the east of Standedge tunnels); upgrade and electrify conventional line for the rest of the route between Liverpool and York; and significantly improve the previous Transpennine Route between Manchester and Leeds, with electrification of the whole route.

But this was rolling back on the original plan which was to build a full, high speed rail line from Liverpool to Leeds via Manchester, with links to other cities in the North and Midlands.

On Sunday, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove said investment in HS2 could be cut as a result of “mistakes” made by Liz Truss.

The UK is facing an economic crisis, with experts warning of an “unpalatable menu” of options to re-balance the nation’s finances after the fall-out from the previous administration’s disastrous mini-budget.

Any decision to cut spending on the project will likely be met with a backlash from northern leaders, who have previously accused the government of “betraying the north” after the plans were first watered down.


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