Boris Johnson has given HS2 the go-ahead, claiming his Government had the “guts to take the decision” to deliver prosperity across the country.
The Prime Minister acknowledged that “cost forecasts have exploded” and criticised the company responsible for developing the high-speed railway.
“I cannot say that HS2 Ltd has distinguished itself in the handling of local communities,” he told the Commons. But he insisted that “poor management to date has not detracted from the fundamental value of the project”.
He announced that HS2 Ltd can “focus solely” on building the railway between London and Crewe, while “new delivery arrangements” will be created by the Government for the Phase 2b stretches from Crewe to Manchester, and Birmingham to Leeds.
Mr Johnson added that the Government will “look at how we can best design and integrate rail investments across the North including Northern Powerhouse Rail between Leeds and Manchester”.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn warned that Mr Johnson “promised so much in the general election” to people in the Midlands and the North, but they will be “sorely disappointed when they see what actually happens”.
He claimed the Government has “proved itself unable to manage infrastructure projects properly and incapable of keeping a lid on the cost”.
The Confederation of British Industry welcomed the decision with chief UK policy director Matthew Fell saying it was “exactly the sort of bold, decisive action required to inject confidence in the economy”.
But Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said Mr Johnson’s decision would give him the “dubious honour of being this century’s largest destroyer of ancient woodlands in the UK”.
The decision has caused splits in the Conservative Party over cost and environmental concerns.
HS2 critic and Lichfield MP Michael Fabricant warned the railway will cause “immense” damage to the countryside.
Tory MP Andrew Bridgen for North West Leicestershire told the chamber HS2 is “unloved, unwanted and has been grossly mismanaged”.
The Prime Minister’s announcement follows the completion of a Government-commissioned review by former HS2 Ltd chairman Douglas Oakervee into whether or not the programme should be scrapped.
The Oakervee Review recommended that ministers should proceed with the project, but warned that the final bill could reach £106 billion at 2019 prices, compared with a budget of £62.4 billion.
Phase 1 between London and Birmingham was due to open in December 2026, but HS2 Ltd chairman Allan Cook said last year it would be “prudent to plan for an opening between 2028 and 2031”.
The Prime Minister told MPs that to avoid “further blowouts” in HS2’s cost or schedule, a series of measures will be taken to “restore discipline”.
This will include appointing a minister whose full-time job will be to oversee the project, and changes to the way HS2 is managed.
HS2 Ltd – the Government-owned company responsible for developing and building the railway – says the project will boost capacity and cut journey times.
Former HS2 Ltd chairman Douglas Oakervee was commissioned by the Government in August 2019 to lead a review into whether or not the programme should be scrapped amid rising costs and delays.
It has been widely leaked that the review found HS2 could cost up to £106 billion, but concluded that “on balance” it should continue.
HS2’s original budget was £32.7 billion at 2011 prices.
It was due to open in December 2026, but HS2 Ltd chairman Allan Cook said last year it would be “prudent to plan for an opening between 2028 and 2031”.
Last month, Whitehall’s spending watchdog said the scheme is over budget and behind schedule because its complexity and risks were under-estimated.
The National Audit Office warned that it is impossible to “estimate with certainty” what the final cost could be.
HS2 has been the subject of years of intensive lobbying from politicians and opposition groups.
Several environmental organisations claim building it will cause huge damage to natural habitats, including dozens of ancient woodlands.
Communities living on or near the route have expressed anger at the impact on their lives, while many people have said the project is simply too expensive and the money would be better spent elsewhere.
Labour’s shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald claimed HS2 has been “appallingly mismanaged” by the Conservatives Party.
He called for the high-speed railway to be integrated with Crossrail for North – a proposed boost for rail services between Liverpool and Hull – and eventually extend high-speed lines to Scotland to “remove the need for domestic flights”.
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