Political and business leaders react to HS2 announcement



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Political and business leaders react to HS2 announcement
Photo: Siemens/PA Wire

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has given the controversial (to say the least) High Speed rail project the green light this week.

Claiming his Government had the “guts to take the decision”, Boris Johnson focused on the “fundamental value of the project” over the spiralling and exploding cost forecasts that have overshadowed HS2 in recent months.

But political figures and business leaders are not convinced. Here’s how they reacted to the PM’s announcement.

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Political and business leaders react to HS2 announcement

Jeremy Corbyn on HS2

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn gave Prime Minister Boris Johnson a stark warning about disappointing people in the Midlands and the North.

“Today’s piecemeal announcements don’t add up to a serious plan to rebalance the economy or to tackle the serious climate emergency that we all face.

“They don’t even come close to repairing the damage done by a decade of Tory government.

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“The Prime Minister laments our inadequate infrastructure yet it’s his party that’s been starving the country of investment over the last 10 years resulting in the worst regional inequality in Europe.

“The saddest thing about today’s announcement is the high likelihood that so much of it won’t be delivered.”

Jeremy Corbyn on Boris Johnson announcement

“Today, the Prime Minister is selling his announcement as a prize for parts of the Midlands and the North, I simply tell him this – people in those regions, to whom he promised so much in the general election, are going to be sorely disappointed when they see what actually happens. If it’s to have public support, the fares on HS2 must be affordable and comparable with the rest of the fare system on the railway network.”

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Mr Johnson responded and said Mr Corbyn had made a “manful attempt to conceal his fundamental agreement” with the Government’s plans, adding on HS2 fares: “The whole point of putting another 200,000 seats in capacity is you thereby drive down prices for the consumer – it’s about competition.”

HS2 was under review - commissioned by Boris Johnson
Photo: HS2/PA Wire

The North ‘getting the scraps’

Connecting Britain, a coalition of business and political leaders in northern England including Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram – metro mayors of Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City Region respectively – said in a statement: “The North of England needs new rail lines that go north-south and west-east.

“London isn’t being forced to choose, it’s getting Crossrail and HS2. We shouldn’t be forced to either. We need HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail delivered in full.

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“The Government needs to be clear we will not accept a gold-plated high-speed line between London and Birmingham, then once again the North getting the scraps.”

John Spellar, Labour MP for the Black Country seat of Warley and a former transport minister, said: “Prime Minister Johnson is clearly too scared to be bold and take on his civil servants. They have already wasted £8 billion of taxpayers’ money without any track being laid – and are about to waste an extra £100 billion.

“My constituents hardly benefit from this decision. Investment is sorely needed in new rolling stock, extra carriages and improved signalling on existing regional train routes – especially in and around the Black Country and West Midlands.

“The main beneficiary of this decision is London – whose commuter zone will eventually reach Birmingham. There is sadly no guarantee HS2 will ever connect to the North – or that costs will not rise further.

“Despite the column inches given to HS2 by the London-centric commentariat, cars are the most popular mode of transport across the country, followed by buses. It is about time the Government developed a transport strategy reflecting this.”

‘HS1 was a great boon and HS2 will be too’

Speaking in the House of Lords, Tory former Cabinet minister Lord Young of Cookham said he was transport secretary back in 1996 when the go-ahead was given to HS1 – the fast rail link between London and the Channel Tunnel.

He said of the scheme: “That was opposed by local MPs, it was challenged through the courts, people said it was too expensive, it was challenged on environmental grounds, people said we should spend the money on local lines instead.

“Today there’s not a single member of this House who would argue that HS1 was not the right decision to take.

Will it not be the same in 25 years’ time about HS2?”

Lord Young

Transport Minister Baroness Vere of Norbiton said: “HS1 was a great boon and I believe HS2 will be too.”

Scott Knowles, chief executive at business group East Midlands Chamber, said: “HS2 will have a transformational effect on the East Midlands and the UK as a whole for generations to come and confirmation that the project will go ahead is welcome news.”

Mr Knowles added: “The vast potential of HS2 will only be realised if implemented in its entirety.

“While it is of course essential to keep an eye on costs, failure to deliver the Eastern Leg would undermine the whole project and greatly limit its return on investment; putting businesses here in the region at a distinct disadvantage in the process.”

Political and business leaders react to HS2 announcement

Green Party criticises Boris Johnson

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said HS2 would “destroy or damage hundreds of important wildlife sites, areas of ancient woodland and local nature reserves”.

She said: “Less than two weeks ago, the Government launched its Environment Bill with great fanfare saying it would put the environment at the centre of policy-making. The ink is barely dry on that Bill when it greenlights HS2 which will destroy or damage hundreds of important wildlife sites, areas of ancient woodland and local nature reserves.

“Some of these sites are supposed to have legal protection, yet they are to be swept aside by the HS2 leviathan. It’s not only the promise of last month’s Environment Bill which is being betrayed, so is the Government’s commitment to develop a Nature Recovery network to protect and restore wildlife.

“Our nature and wildlife is being wiped out at a terrifying rate and projects like HS2 add yet more harm. This is not protecting the environment for future generations, it is destroying huge areas of irreplaceable natural habitat. The greenlighting of HS2 is a decision we will rapidly come to regret.

“When two out of five job-seekers are stopped from getting a job because of a lack of public transport and many without cars would struggle to get to a hospital, it’s clear our public transport network is threadbare.

“That is what needs to be addressed, with new rail connections which will make a bigger difference to more people’s daily lives.”

What do you think of Boris Johnson’s announcement that HS2 will be given the go-ahead? Leave your comments…


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