MP candidates disagree on HS2 scrapping

Candidates at the BBC Radio Stoke debate sitting around a table with microphones in front of promotional banners
BBC Radio Stoke held a debate with candidates for the Crewe and Nantwich constituency [BBC]

General election candidates for a constituency impacted by the loss of HS2's northern leg have disagreed over whether it was a good or bad thing for the region.

In a debate organised by BBC Radio Stoke for candidates in Crewe and Nantwich, Labour's Connor Naismith said it was a devastating and wrong decision.

However, Conservative candidate Ben Fletcher said the government was right to scrap the northern leg has the pandemic had transformed the economics of the project.

They are among eight candidates standing in the seat.

The debate participants were asked how they foresaw Crewe town centre growing over the next five years in the wake of the HS2 cancellation.

Mr Naismith said Crewe town centre was struggling, attributing it partially to the HS2 withdrawal but also to the handling of the national economy, which had left shops in the town empty.

"If you're a business in there, you're paying huge rents dictated by the private landlord and you're also paying quite high business rates that if you were online you simply wouldn't have to do."

Connor Naismith in front of a BBC Election 24 banner
Labour's Connor Naismith described the HS2 decision as "devastating" [BBC]

In relation to the impact of the HS2 northern leg being scrapped, he said: "I'm not going to say it's killed Crewe, it was a devastating decision, it was the wrong decision by this government."

When asked if Labour would reinstate the northern leg, Mr Naismith said "it's just not as simple as that," due to the funds already being allocated.

However, Tory candidate Ben Fletcher said he disagreed with Mr Naismith over HS2, saying the government wasn't wrong to cancel the northern leg.

"Voters have a right to expect that the government applies intelligent economic analysis to the decisions that have been made," he said.

Ben Fletcher in front of a BBC Election 24 banner
Conservative candidate Ben Fletcher said the decision was a result of "intelligent economic analysis" [BBC]

"The reality is the pandemic transformed the economics of HS2, which was always about capacity, not about speed to London."

He said the critical aspect of HS2 was not the connection to Birmingham or London, but to the north west.

"What the government has committed to is that all of the money that was going to be spent on connecting the north west will remain in the north west." he said.

"And that's vital for Crewe because Crewe's whole history is as a great connecting hub."

Mr Fletcher, who was previously chief financial officer for Boots and ran Clarks Shoes in the UK, said his experience would help the town: "I know retail intimately and I know what it takes to get retail back into a town centre," he said.

Emma Guy and Brian Silvester standing in front of BBC banners at the debate
Emma Guy of Reform UK and Brian Silvester, Putting Crewe First, said the scheme had wasted money. [BBC]

Brian Silvester, the independent candidate for Putting Crewe First, said: "The cancellation of HS2 is being used as a convenient excuse by Labour.

"The fact is that Cheshire East (Council) spent £11m of our council taxpayers' money preparing for HS2, which was highly irresponsible and naive."

Matt Wood, the Reform UK candidate, declined to participate and so party representative Emma Guy attended instead.

She said: "From our point of view as a party, we're totally and utterly scrapping HS2 as an absolute waste of money."

As a parish councillor during the planning process, she said, "the question we asked was why didn't HS2 start in the north rather than the south".

The other candidates in the constituency are Te Ata Browne for the Green Party and Matthew Theobald for the Liberal Democrats who were invited to take part in the debate but could not attend, Phil Lane for the Workers Party of Britain, and Lord Psychobilly Tractor for the Monster Raving Loony Party.

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