Sir Bill Cash: Half the Cabinet want to chuck 'fundamentally flawed' HS2
"It's not too late to stop the disaster of HS2."
That was the message from Tory MPs who have urged Theresa May to ditch the £56 billion high speed rail line that will carve through 45 miles of Staffordshire countryside on its way from London to the north west.
Stone MP Sir Bill Cash led the calls in a Westminster Hall debate, where he said stopping the 'fundamentally flawed project' now was better than the alternative of 'continuing to throw money down a black hole'.
He launched a stinging attack on the line – which he said half the Cabinet 'want to chuck' – and said that stress caused by HS2 had made some people in his constituency 'physically ill'.
The proposed route slices Stone in half, and includes two viaducts and two tunnels.
HS2 has already cost more than £4bn, with costs expected to surge by at least £12bn over the next three years – money Sir Bill says would be better spent on the NHS or defence.
It comes as moves to bring an end to the project have gathered pace in recent weeks.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove along with other senior ministers are thought to be considering a public call for it to be cancelled, while Boris Johnson – a long time opponent of the line – warned this week that its cost on completion could almost double to more than £100bn.
Sir Bill said: "It has already cost £4bn – but there is no excuse for continuing to throw money down a black hole.
"The spending plans begin to spiral after 2018, £3bn in 2019, £4.2bn in 2020 and £4.8bn in 2021. If we are going to stop it, now would be a good time."
He slammed astronomical cost estimates – including more than £6bn for a seven mile stretch in London. "We have to get real," he said, pointing out that HS2 'don't appear to have any reliable costings themselves'.
"For the same price the UK could buy two new aircraft carriers or 10 state-of-the-art NHS hospitals, let alone local infrastructure and roads."
He said the Treasury had conceded that there was a 'high risk' of HS2 not delivering value for money, and referred to a recent poll which said that in the West Midlands less than a quarter of people think HS2 will benefit them.
Sir Bill, who has voted against HS2 each time it has passed through the Commons, said the project had caused 'an enormous amount of anxiety and stress to communities affected by it', stating that people in Stone had been made physically ill by it.
"It really is a catastrophic exercise in not only maladministration, but in addition to that the anxiety it has caused," he said.
"The fact is that the project has not yet left the station, and already the runaway costs are out of control.
"If this situation was not so serious, I would congratulate the HS2 executives for their role in constructing the most amazing gravy train that has ever been built in the UK, with a quarter of HS2 staff paid over £100,000 in the last year, and the chief executive taking home £600,000."
Sir Bill also called for an urgent review of HS2. "At present HS2 needs far more scrutiny than it is getting," he added.
Stafford MP Jeremy Lefroy also took part in the debate.
He said there was no need for trains to travel at super fast speeds, and that the Government should instead focus on making 'perfectly adequate' speeds of more than 200kmh – that are already achieved on the UK's railways – a standard.
Mr Lefroy called for the development of a full national rail plan based on 'capacity, connectivity and reliability' rather than speed.
Phase one of HS2 between London and the West Midlands is due to be completed by 2025, with the first trains running by the following year.
Work on Phase 2a – which passes through Staffordshire from Birmingham to the north west – takes place over the same period.
The Government maintains that HS2 will bring widespread benefits to the economy through a larger labour market and greater commuter capacity.