Downing Street has said plans to build a new nuclear power plant in Suffolk have not been scrapped as part of a drive to make sweeping government spending cuts.
Sizewell C, which would sit alongside the existing Sizewell B nuclear reactor on the Suffolk coast if built, was expected to provide up to 7% of the UK’s electricity needs and plug a looming gap in Britain’s nuclear capabilities.
The BBC reported on Friday that the government had put the project under review and it could be delayed or even axed entirely.
However, Rishi Sunak’s spokesperson told reporters: “Our position on Sizewell C has not changed. We hope to get a deal over the line as soon as possible. There are negotiations ongoing. I can’t get into detail of those, but negotiations have been constructive.”
However, Grant Shapps, the business secretary, gave a firm indication that a pledge from Liz Truss, Sunak’s predecessor as prime minister, to eventually connect northern towns and cities from Hull to Liverpool through Bradford will at the very least be scaled back.
“There wasn’t really much point in going and blasting new tunnels through the Pennines … It’s not true to say we’re not delivering on what we said we would do on levelling up the north,” he told the BBC.
When complete, the reactor, which was estimated to cost £30bn, with taxpayers expected to foot about a fifth of that in partnership with private funding, was expected to generate electricity for 6m homes for up to 60 years.
The BBC said a government official had told them: “We are reviewing every major project, including Sizewell C.”
Plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail, a high-speed line across the north of England sometimes referred to unofficially as High Speed 3, are also under review.
The review of major projects comes as Sunak and the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, prepare to announce tax and spending plans on 17 November.
The Sizewell C site is one of eight new nuclear reactors that the former prime minister Boris Johnson had planned to give the green light to over the next eight years.
Last month Truss, who was then prime minister, and France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, pledged “full support” for Sizewell C, which is to be jointly developed by the French energy company EDF.
Most UK nuclear power plants will be shut by 2030 – Sizewell B is due to close in 2035 – and the energy crisis sparked by the war in Ukraine has put the focus on national energy security solutions.
While campaigning for the Conservative leadership in the summer, Sunak pledged to uphold Johnson’s plan to build eight new reactors. He also argued in favour of reforming licensing laws to allow the government to build more nuclear plants in an attempt to achieve energy independence by 2045.
Ed Miliband, the shadow climate secretary, said: “If the government turns its back on [Sizewell C], they will be breaking all of the promises they have made, and undermining our vital nuclear industry.”
But Alison Downes of the Stop Sizewell C campaign said: “Sizewell C can only offer short-term pain – with more money on our energy bills – for long-term pain, with huge uncertainty about cost and time, to deliver electricity that is far more expensive than renewables. There is no way Sizewell C offers the hard-stretched public purse value for money.”
The government said that some major infrastructure projects were forging ahead, such as the rail line HS2, with one nuclear project set to be approved.
“HS2 is under way, within budget, and supporting 28,000 jobs,” a spokesperson for the Treasury said. “We are also seeking to approve at least one large-scale nuclear project in the next few years and aim to speed up the delivery of about 100 major infrastructure projects across the UK.”