Save or scrap? What HS2’s champions and critics have said

Advisers, MPs and former ministers are sharply split over committing or quitting on the high-speed rail line

With the future of the HS2 rail line beyond Birmingham in grave doubt, argument is raging about whether it should be saved or scrapped. Here are some voices from both sides of the policy fence.

Those in favour of saving HS2

George Osborne and Michael Heseltine (in a joint article by the former chancellor and the Tory grandee)

It would be an act of huge economic self-harm, and be a decision of such shortsightedness, that we urge the prime minister: don’t do it.

How could ever again claim to be levelling up when you cancel the biggest levelling up project in the country? …

The remaining stump, little more than a shuttle service from Birmingham to a London suburb, would become an international symbol of our decline.

Philip Hammond (Conservative former chancellor)

I was transport secretary at the time that the project was confirmed by David Cameron’s government. We did a lot of work studying the options and whether we could de-scope the project in order to reduce costs, and all the conclusions were that it had to go to Manchester and it had to go into Euston.

Anything else was a false economy that would leave us with a white elephant, and I don’t see anything that has changed since that study.

Andy Burnham (Labour mayor of Greater Manchester)

Scrapping HS2 rips the heart out of Northern Powerhouse Rail. Basically it would leave the north of England with Victorian infrastructure probably for the rest of this century.

If we’re trapped with that old infrastructure and the southern half of the country gets new lines, that is a recipe for the north-south divide to become a north-south chasm, the very opposite of the levelling up that we were promised in this parliament.

Those in favour of scrapping HS2

William Hague (former Tory leader, writing in July)

If I were still in government … I would want to stop all work on HS2 today, but I know I would be told that the contracts signed for its construction make that impossible.

Then I would say that if we can’t cancel it we should at least make sure that the bits that haven’t been abandoned will work well, but I would be told that the cost of making it start in Euston has doubled recently, that no one could decide how many platforms they wanted to build, that this crucial part is currently unaffordable and that the transformational, high-speed connection of Birmingham to central London might not even reach the latter. And then I would want to scream.

Andrew Gilligan (transport adviser to Boris Johnson, now back in No 10 with Rishi Sunak, writing last year, when he was with the Policy Exchange thinktank)

In this week’s budget, the government reportedly plans to achieve £54bn per year of fiscal tightening – £33bn from spending cuts, £21bn from tax increases – by 2027-28. Few of the choices are palatable. Many are awful. But at least one would actually be popular. Scaling back HS2 could alone deliver almost a tenth of the spending cuts required …

In the medium to long term, it will create significant headroom for investment in better transport projects – projects which deliver more benefits, to more places, more quickly. In ConservativeHome’s words, “robbing the white elephant to pay the red wall”.


Peter Walker Deputy political editor

The GuardianTramp

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