Boris Johnson raises fresh doubts over HS2 project
HS2 has been plunged into fresh doubt after it emerged that Boris Johnson has drawn up plans for a review of the controversial line.
The Tory leadership favourite has asked ex-HS2 chairman Douglas Oakervee to lead the probe if he is successful in his bid for Number 10.
Mr Johnson's decision has sent alarm bells ringing for HS2 supporters, who insist the £56 billion line must be built for the sake of Britain's economy.
The route passes through 45 miles of Staffordshire countryside on its way through the Midlands from London to the north west.
It has been dogged by criticism for years over escalating costs, contract disputes, contested land deals and concerns over damage to the environment.
Mr Johnson told a private meeting of Conservative constituency chairs that he had asked Mr Oakervee to “have a look at the business case” for the project and “think about whether and how we proceed”.
He said the business case needed to be studied closely because the costs seemed to be “spiralling out of control”.
Mr Oakervee was briefly chairman of Crossrail, the new west-east railway across London, and spent a year chairing HS2 between 2012 and 2013.
Mr Johnson has repeatedly questioned the necessity of the HS2 project while Treasury Secretary Liz Truss, a key supporter of his leadership bid, has called for it to be reviewed.
Mr Johnson told the meeting that he still had an open mind about whether the rail scheme should go ahead.
“I worry about cancelling a big national project of that scale without anything else to replace it,” he said.
Parliament has passed legislation for the first phase from London to Birmingham, but the bill to approve the second phase of the project, which would pass through Staffordshire on its way to Crewe, has been put back until next year at the earliest.
Business Secretary Greg Clark said HS2 was “crucially important”, arguing that it would have a “transformational” impact on the economy and communities across England.
He said he believed the next Prime Minister would ultimately back the project.
Asked if HS2 would definitely go ahead under the new leader, Mr Clark said: “Yes. You saw what happened in 2013 when Ed Balls as shadow chancellor questioned whether a Labour government would scrap HS2.
"You had quite an impressive reaction from the leaders of all of the northern cities, who virtually marched on Downing Street and said: ‘It is absolutely essential to our future.’
“It is so important for the whole country, not just the north, that we have the type of connections that other modern economies have.”