Sec­ond phase of HS2 may never be built, ad­mits Grayling

The Sunday Telegraph - - Front page - By Ed­ward Mal­nick WHITE­HALL ED­I­TOR

HS2 could be dra­mat­i­cally scaled back amid pub­lic op­po­si­tion to the scheme, the Trans­port Sec­re­tary has ad­mit­ted.

Chris Grayling said that the sec­ond phase of the line, which would con­nect Birm­ing­ham to Leeds, was “not in the bag”.

His com­ments to fig­ures within the rail in­dus­try, rep­re­sent a ma­jor de­par­ture from the Gov­ern­ment’s pre­vi­ous in­sis­tence that con­struc­tion of the scheme would pro­ceed as planned de­spite mount­ing ques­tions about its costs and value for money.

They re­flect grow­ing con­cerns in White­hall that in­dus­try bod­ies and trade unions that helped to make the orig­i­nal case for the project are fail­ing to ef­fec­tively counter the ar­gu­ments made by op­po­nents.

In re­cent months, The Sun­day Tele­graph has re­ported how two Cab­i­net min­is­ters have sug­gested HS2 should be can­celled en­tirely. A third said that the leg from Birm­ing­ham to Leeds, on which con­struc­tion is due to be­gin in 2024, should be scrapped, with the route served by other forms of trans­port in­stead. The first phase will stretch from Lon­don to Birm­ing­ham and is due to open to pas­sen­gers in 2026.

Ad­dress­ing a rail in­dus­try con­fer­ence in Lon­don, Mr Grayling ac­knowl­edged the Gov­ern­ment’s bat­tle to “make the case” for the project, which is of­fi­cially costed at £56bil­lion, but which sev­eral se­nior min­is­ters pri­vately fear could ex­ceed £100bil­lion.

He said: “This in­dus­try has got to help make the case for HS2. We have got to con­tinue mak­ing that case for it. It will be a fan­tas­tic rail­way, one of the best in Europe – but it still needs sup­port if it is to def­i­nitely go to Leeds and con­nect to the North­ern Pow­er­house Rail.”

Par­lia­ment ap­proved phase one in 2014, de­spite op­po­si­tion from 50 MPs. A bill for phase 2a – from Birm­ing­ham to Crewe – is go­ing through the Com­mons. Leg­is­la­tion en­abling the line to be built to Manch­ester and Leeds is due to be tabled in 2020, but Mr Grayling’s com­ments sug­gest he fears sig­nif­i­cant op­po­si­tion.

Also speak­ing at the Rail­way In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion’s

an­nual con­fer­ence on Oct 22, Sir Terry Mor­gan, the chair­man of HS2 Ltd, warned del­e­gates: “I ab­so­lutely do think that we still have a sell­ing case to do for HS2.

“The truth is that with­out the north­ern sec­tion of HS2, there isn’t a busi­ness case for the line at all.

“You wouldn’t do HS2 on the ba­sis of Phase 1 [Lon­don to Birm­ing­ham] on its own. HS2 def­i­nitely needs Phase 2, oth­er­wise it does not work.”

He added: “The North and the Mid­lands have got to fight for the case of HS2. We can al­ways get more sup­port from busi­nesses.

“I would like to see more of a voice in sup­port of HS2, like Lon­don First was for Cross­rail. But then it is part of my job now to get busi­nesses to be more en­gaged.”

The com­ments by Mr Grayling and Sir Terry were re­ported in New Civil En­gi­neer, a trade mag­a­zine.

Nus­rat Ghani, a ju­nior trans­port min­is­ter, had in­sisted to MPs in Septem­ber that the en­tire project would be com­pleted in 2033, in­clud­ing the planned stretch from Birm­ing­ham to Leeds. “We are com­mit­ted to de­liv­er­ing to those timescales,” she said.

The Sun­day Tele­graph has pre­vi­ously dis­closed how Es­ther McVey, the Work and Pen­sions Sec­re­tary, told con­stituents she be­lieved the Gov­ern­ment needed to re­view the “busi­ness case” for the project, while An­drea Lead­som, the leader of the Com­mons, told the Cab­i­net that it rep­re­sented poor value for money and should be scrapped.

An ORB sur­vey for this news­pa­per in Septem­ber found that 38 per cent of peo­ple op­pose the scheme, com­pared to 26 per cent in favour.

Ad­dress­ing MPs in Septem­ber, Ms Ghani said that HS2 would be “an en­abler of eco­nomic growth by con­nect­ing our great cities and towns in the Mid­lands and the North, en­cour­ag­ing em­ploy­ers not to fo­cus only on Lon­don and the South East.”

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