HS2 cost could rise to £100bn, warns McVey

The Sunday Telegraph - - News - By Ed­ward Mal­nick WHITE­HALL ED­I­TOR

HS2 could cost al­most dou­ble the of­fi­cial es­ti­mate af­ter the Govern­ment wrote a “blank cheque” for the scheme, a se­nior min­is­ter has said.

Es­ther McVey, the Work and Pen­sions Sec­re­tary, told con­stituents that the fi­nal bill for the high speed rail line could ex­ceed £100bil­lion com­pared with a for­mal es­ti­mate of £56bil­lion.

Ms McVey is among at least half a dozen cabi­net min­is­ters who be­lieve the Govern­ment should re­view the scheme to es­tab­lish whether its com­ple­tion would rep­re­sent value for money, amid mount­ing con­cern over its cost, The Sun­day Tele­graph can dis­close.

The dis­clo­sure of her com­ments comes af­ter Boris John­son joined MPs call­ing for HS2 to be scrapped, with the sav­ings spent at least in part on the NHS.

Ms McVey at­tacked the scheme at a pub­lic meet­ing in her Cheshire con­stituency last Novem­ber. The Govern­ment has in­sisted that HS2 is “on time and on bud­get”, a fig­ure which is cur­rently set at £56bil­lion hav­ing risen from a pro­jec­tion of £43bil­lion in 2013.

But the then deputy chief whip told con­stituents: “We need to look at the busi­ness case again. The cost we be­lieve might now be more than £100bil­lion. There might be a busi­ness case for HS2 at £56bil­lion, but at any cost? I don’t think so. We’ve asked HS2 ‘can you do it?’ We’ve writ­ten them a blank cheque and of course they will tell you they can do it if you are writ­ing them a blank cheque.”

Speak­ing at a pub­lic meet­ing in her con­stituency of Tat­ton, in com­ments re­ported by the Wins­ford Guardian, a lo­cal news­pa­per, Ms McVey said: “When I look at what HS2 is about I ask what prob­lem is it try­ing to solve?

“We’ve been told it is about im­prov­ing pub­lic health, about im­prov­ing speed, about im­prov­ing ca­pac­ity. And what might have seemed like the right so­lu­tion in 2010 – is that still the right so­lu­tion in 2030?”

HS2 will link Lon­don and Birm­ing­ham, with a sec­ond phase to stretch to Manch­ester and Leeds. The first sec­tion is due to open in 2026, with the project pro­jected to be com­pleted in 2033.

But Ms McVey added: “Com­mu­ni­ca­tion, tech­nol­ogy, all these things are chang­ing. Are peo­ple still want­ing to move across the coun­try, north to south? We need ser­vices across the north and we don’t want that bro­ken down by high-speed rail­way to Lon­don. We need ser­vices across the north to come first.”

A HS2 Ltd spokesman said: “HS2 will re­bal­ance the econ­omy by con­nect­ing over 25 towns and cities and nearly half of UK eco­nomic out­put. It will also in­crease rail ca­pac­ity on the cur­rent sys­tem and re­duce jour­ney times, and is al­ready cre­at­ing thou­sands of jobs across the UK... HS2 is al­ready help­ing to at­tract new in­vest­ment to the Mid­lands and the North, a process which will only ac­cel­er­ate as the line is built.”

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