Boris Johnson has given the go-ahead for the controversial HS2 rail link between London and Birmingham, announcing he will appoint a minister to oversee the project, as he damned the current management.
The Prime Minister this afternoon confirmed the government was backing HS2, which is now estimated to cost more than £100bn by completion.
Updating the Commons after Cabinet ministers signed the project off this morning, Johnson said: “You know this country is being held back by our inadequate infrastructure.”
“We cannot make these improvements in isolation from one and other… and our generation faces a historic choice,” Johnson said. “We can try to get by with existing routes from north to south, consign the next generation to overcrowding… or have the guts to take a decision, no matter how controversial.”
Johnson stressed his decision was “not made easier by HS2 Ltd”.
As a MP for an affected constituency, Uxbridge in north-west London, Johnson was critical. “I cannot say HS2 Ltd has distinguished itself among local communities,” he said. “Costs have exploded.
“But poor management to date has not detracted from the fundamental value of the HS2 project.”
A minister will be appointed will full time oversight of the project, and government will begin “interrogating current costs to identify savings in phase one”, he said.
“If we start now, services could be running by the end of the decade.”
As City A.M. reported yesterday, in giving the green light, he set out plans to carve up the project into three, with the first phase between Old Oak Common and Birmingham being completed before the Euston regeneration and High Speed North phases.
Work on Phase 1 will start in April, while the government will revive the legislation to deliver Phase 2a, connecting Birmingham to Crewe, “as soon as possible”.
The decision to overhaul HS2’s management appeared to soften the blow, with many long-time Tory critics – and those on the opposition benches – giving Johnson their qualified support.
Bill Cash said his constituents would be “bitterly disappointed” by the decision, but appeared satisfied by the Prime Minister’s promise to review part of the route as it affects his local area. Chair of the backbench 1922 committee Graham Brady echoed this view.
Michael Fabricant said he was “less than enthusiastic about the route of HS2,” but was “delighted” by the shake up of the management.
Andrew Bridgen was more critical, describing HS2 as “unloved, unwanted and grossly mismanaged”. He warned the project “could well be an albatross around this govt and country’s neck”.
But Johnson retorted by arguing that “every single infrastructure project” is opposed at this stage.
And the Prime Minister appeared to give a big hint about his plans for Heathrow, in response to a question by Twickenham MP Munira Wilson.
“I see no bulldozers at present, not any immediate prospect of them arriving,” he said.
It is not just Tory backbenchers who did not want the rail link to go ahead. Johnson’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings is understood to have fought against what he regards as a white elephant.
But asked about it during a doorstep interview this morning, Cummings merely told the BBC: “We should get PJ Masks on the job.”
PJ Masks is a popular children’s TV show. Cummings also repeated the words to the main theme: “Night time is the right time to fight crime… I can’t think of a rhyme.”
Some Tories gave their boss immediate and unequivocal support, including Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry.
More to follow
Main image: Getty