Express & Star

Andy Street says PM would be 'turning his back on levelling up' by cutting back HS2

Rishi Sunak would be 'turning his back on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to level up' says the West Midlands Mayor, as he goes against his fellow Tory over the future of HS2.

Last updated
Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street speaks to the media about HS2 during the Conservative Party annual conference at the Manchester Central convention complex. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Andy Street spoke out against the rumoured plans that the crisis-hit rail line will be scrapped north of Birmingham, overruling concerns of Tory grandees, businesses and northern leaders.

Downing Street has insisted "no final decisions have been taken".

However, in an impromptu press conference outside the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, Mr Street passionately called for the Prime Minister to continue with the high speed railway to Manchester.

The mayor said he had been looking at a new funding model with more private sector involvement.

"We all know the costs are escalating well beyond the budget and indeed he is right to try to get a grip of this situation - I fully accept that," he said.

"But gripping this situation means re-examining it, it does not mean giving up, admitting defeat you could say, or even, you could say, cancelling the future."

He concluded by saying: "My suggestion to the Prime Minister tonight as he considers all these rumours, is that there is a choice in front of him.

"The choice, very stark; either as the rumours say, go on cancel Euston, cancel to Manchester, but you will be turning your back on an opportunity to level up, a once in a lifetime opportunity.

"You will indeed be damaging our international reputation as a place to invest.

"Or the alternative is to work with us, engage with us, fully embrace the private sector. Hear out what they could do to find a way that we can still build this national piece of infrastructure in a way which we can afford and at a cost that we're all comfortable with."

Work continues on constructing the HS2 line around Streethay, Lichfield, near Cappers Lane and the A38

On Twitter, Mr Street later declared: “I wasn’t expecting this in Manchester, but I won’t let HS2 go without a fight. The offer to the PM is there – work with me and the private sector, grip the costs, and build Britain’s future.”

Andy Burnham described reports that the Manchester leg of HS2 will be shelved as "profoundly depressing".

Speaking at a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference, Labour's Manchester mayor said: "This will be remembered as the conference when they pulled the plug on us.

"What gives them the right to treat people here in Greater Manchester and the north of England as second-class citizens?

"We're growing faster than the UK economy. We're a success story and then, behind you, you have got people working against you."

Mr Burnham added: "If this railway goes from outer London through the Home Counties and ends up in Birmingham, it will be a monument of the places Whitehall cares about."

Former Conservative prime ministers Boris Johnson, Theresa May and David Cameron have also issued warnings against scaling the high-speed line back, which was also originally due to go to Leeds before Mr Johnson cut the eastern leg back to East Midlands Parkway.

HS2 aims to create more space on the existing rail network, reduce journey times and allow for more jobs outside London, but has faced delays and increased costs.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has questioned why why delivering HS2 is costing vastly more than similar projects in Europe, but has said it is not the "appropriate time" to announce whether the route to Manchester is being scrapped, telling Sky News the government "will take very careful note of the need to have proper economic infrastructure throughout the whole country".

He added: "In terms of this specific decision I'm afraid you will have to wait. We will make the announcement at the appropriate time."