The chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, has moved to quash speculation that HS2 trains will not run to central London, saying he did not see “any conceivable circumstances” in which the planned Euston terminus would not go ahead.
It had been reported that the high-speed rail network could instead terminate permanently in the western suburbs of the capital, stopping short of central London to save money.
However, Hunt told BBC News, when asked if ministers were committed to HS2 going all the way to Euston: “Yes we are. And I don’t see any conceivable circumstances in which that would not end up at Euston.”
Hunt said he had “prioritised HS2 in the autumn statement”, adding: “We have not got a good record in this country of delivering complex, expensive infrastructure quickly but I’m incredibly proud that, for the first time in this last decade, under a Conservative government, we have shovels in the ground building HS2 and we’re going to make it happen.”
His words were later echoed by Downing Street’s official spokesperson. No 10 also played down fears of delay, saying that the planned phases of construction “remain the expected delivery dates”.
HS2 officials were reportedly considering scaling back the multibillion-pound project by delaying to 2038 – or scrapping completely – the Euston terminus, according to the Sun.
HS2 had already planned to only run services from a new hub under construction at Old Oak Common, five miles away in the suburbs of west London, when the line opens in about 2030, after proposals in the 2019 Oakervee review for Boris Johnson. The Sun claimed, however, that the government was considering leaving it as the permanent terminus, with passengers having to finish journeys into central London by using the Elizabeth line instead.
Tunnelling has started west of Old Oak Common but work to cut through to Euston is not yet under way. However, large numbers of homes and premises around Euston have already been demolished, in years of works around the station for HS2.
Business groups in the north and south said that axing the line short of central London would be folly and would undermine the scheme.
The government did not earlier specifically deny the reports. A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “The government remains committed to delivering HS2 to Manchester, as confirmed in the autumn statement. As well as supporting tens of thousands of jobs, the project will connect regions across the UK, improve capacity on our railways and provide a greener option of travel.”
The project has been dogged by criticism over its financial and environmental impact. In October of last year, Michael Gove, the levelling-up secretary, suggested capital investment for HS2 would be reviewed but Hunt subsequently backed the project.
The target cost of phase one between London and Birmingham was £40.3bn at 2019 prices. A budget of £55.7bn for the whole of HS2 was set in 2015.
Penny Gaines of the campaign group Stop HS2 said it was “not at all surprising” costs were spiralling out of control. “These reports just show that there are so many problems with HS2,” she said. “It’s being delayed further and further, so the cost is going up; it should be cancelled in its entirety as soon as possible.”
Tony Berkeley, who in 2019 was deputy chairman of a government-commissioned review into HS2, argued on Friday that the entire project should be scrapped.
The Labour peer told the PA news agency: “The alternative in the news this morning is using Old Oak Common as a terminal station, which would work for half the number of trains that they want with a bit of redesign but it wouldn’t do the lot. There’s not enough space for it so they couldn’t do it except maybe a shuttle service from Birmingham.
“What’s the point of building HS2 just to get to Birmingham? I think the whole thing should be cancelled.”
He claimed investment in the project would be “much better spent on improving the railway lines in the north, east and west, than going to London a bit quicker”.
Henri Murison, the chief executive of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said: “As well as the obvious difficulties for travellers needing to then change train to get into central London, Old Oak Common simply does not have enough platforms to deliver a full service between London and Manchester, never mind to Leeds and beyond.
“The problem with whittling down major infrastructure projects such as HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail is that the new, cheaper versions do not deliver the productivity transformation we were promised and, ironically, are less good value for money.”