The government risks wrecking the UK’s future infrastructure projects if it goes ahead with “in effect scrapping” the HS2 railway line.
Former Chancellor George Osborne and Tory grandee Lord Heseltine have warned Rishi Sunak that failing to complete HS2 would be “an act of huge economic self-harm”.
It follows widespread reports the government is considering cancelling the high-speed rail route from Birmingham to Manchester, and the final miles into Euston, central London.
Writing in the Times, Osborne and Heseltine blasted the “rumours” as a “decision of such short-sightedness, that we urge the prime minister: don’t do it”.
They said: “It would be an act of huge economic self-harm… How could [you] ever again claim to be levelling up when you cancel the biggest levelling-up project in the country?
“How could you claim to be taking difficult decisions for the long term, when you abandon the single largest and most challenging long term piece of infrastructure the country is building?”
Osborne and Heseltine warned the decision would affect communities, workers and firms across Britain — and that costs would “spread around the world”, demonstrating the UK’s instability.
“Without completing HS2, we won’t have the engineering base, including a skilled workforce, that we need so desperately for other big national infrastructure projects,” they wrote.
“The remaining stump, little more than a shuttle service from Birmingham to a London suburb, would become an international symbol of our decline.”
HS2 was “promised by six different British governments and committed to in three election winning manifestos”, they said, and cancelling it would abandon the north and Midlands.
While voters were unlikely to “believe” that money saved from scrapping parts of HS2 could be diverted into Northern Powerhouse Rail — the east-west line across the Pennines — which is still “many years from an agreed route, let alone the planning and legislation required”.
Sunak, they said, should investigate why European countries have delivered high-speed rail more cheaply than the UK and extend the energy infrastructure review to transport schemes.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman declined to comment on speculation about the future of HS2.
He told journalists: “Without getting into a specific project, I think the government has and will continue to have a good record about levelling up and driving growth in the north.”
Speaking in Hertfordshire, Sunak insisted his government was “absolutely committed to levelling up and spreading opportunity” with “transport infrastructure a key part of that”.