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HS2: Doubts mount over Birmingham-Manchester stage of new rail line

There is speculation that HS2’s 225mph trains may now only run from Ealing to Birmingham
There is speculation that HS2’s 225mph trains may now only run from Ealing to Birmingham

Rishi Sunak on Thursday refused to rule out shelving the Birmingham-Manchester stage of HS2 to save up to £34 billion on the troubled rail project.

With costs soaring on the high-speed plan, a branch from Birmingham to Leeds has already been curtailed, and tunnelling works on the final stretch of the line into Euston station are on pause.

The Prime Minister and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt met on Tuesday to discuss the project, according to The Independent, which carried a photograph of what appeared to be an official document detailing some of the costs involved.

The document showed that £2.3bn has already been spent on stage two of the high-speed railway from Birmingham to Manchester, but that shelving the phase would save up to £34bn.

Mr Sunak’s spokesman refused to comment on the meeting and the “leaked” document.

“It is obviously standard process for departments to discuss the phasing of major projects like HS2,” he told reporters, adding: “Spades are already in the ground on the HS2 programme and we are focussed on delivering it.

“We are committed to HS2 - to the project,” he said, but refused repeatedly to say whether that included the Manchester leg.

Henri Murison, chief executive of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, was infuriated at the possible development.

"It would be a massive, massive shock,” he told Times Radio, adding “we’d be very, very angry if this happens”.

“I hope the Chancellor, who is a supporter of ours, was very clear with the prime minister what an ill-informed and bad decision it would be."

Andy Burnham, the Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester, tweeted over the Independent story: “Levelling up? My a**e.

“The Government is guilty of gross mismanagement of HS2 and of making the North pay for their failure. Once again, passengers here are seen as second-class citizens,” he said.