Second phase of HS2 may never be built, admits Grayling
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.”