Budget for High Speed 2 to face fresh questions

Marion Dakers
THE BUDGET for the controversial High Speed 2 railway is under the spotlight this week as a new business case for the scheme is published and MPs vote on a bill that allows the project to proceed.

Danny Alexander, the Treasury minister, said yesterday he is “very confident” that HS2 will be delivered within its £42.6bn budget – a figure that has already been raised several times, and includes a “significant amount of contingency”.

“I’m very confident that, as we work through the project and deliver it, we will not just deliver it within that budget but, like the Olympic Stadium project, under budget too,” he told the BBC.

Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman, whose party has wavered in its support for the project in recent months, said the coalition needs “to keep a strong eye on the costs as well as the benefits”.

“It’s no good the government simply complaining about people who are raising these issues; they should be addressing these issues, controlling costs and being properly analytical about the benefits that are available,” Harman told the BBC.

However, she denied reports that shadow chancellor Ed Balls had likened the project to the ill-fated Millennium Dome, claiming that the comparison had been made by a journalist.

Meanwhile Kelvin Hopkins, a backbench Labour MP, has proposed reopening the full Grand Central Railway as a cheaper alternative to HS2.

The Department for Transport’s latest analysis on the economic benefits of the line from London to Birmingham, and later Leeds and Manchester, is expected to be published this week.

The report comes as the House of Commons prepares to vote on Thursday on the third and final reading of the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill, which will commit public funds to the project.