Rishi Sunak has denied that people feel betrayed by his wavering over the future of HS2, and he’ll be driving to the Tory conference, leaving his private jet at home.
The Prime Minister, giving a string of local radio interviews ahead of the Conservative Party conference, did nothing to quell fears he is preparing to either scrap or delay the rail project’s Birmingham to Manchester leg.
He instead stressed the importance of funding other transport projects such as local bus services in rural areas, fixing potholes and connecting northern towns and cities.
Kicking off his whirlwind tour of local radio stations on BBC Radio York on Thursday, the Prime Minister was asked whether he is betraying the North by curtailing the high-speed rail line.
Mr Sunak replied: “No. I think what people will see, I mean particularly around where we are – my home is in Northallerton – we’re investing record amounts in improving infrastructure but also delivering levelling up.
“I mean making sure that our town centres and high streets get the investment that they need. That’s really important and making sure that, as I say, transport infrastructure is being improved.”
He said the Government is “investing record sums in transport infrastructure”.
“When I speak to people when I’m at home or anywhere else around, what everyone tells me is that you’ve got to make it easier to get around all our northern towns and cities, whether it’s Hull, York, Leeds, Sheffield, all the way over to Liverpool. Connecting all those cities up is really important and we’re doing that.
“But also investing in the local transport that people use every day, making sure that our potholes are filled, making sure that our bus services are running – particularly important in rural areas like mine.”
Challenged over the “mess” of the rail network in the North, Mr Sunak acknowledged there are “challenges” which he blamed on the Covid-19 pandemic.
He suggested most journeys are made by car, saying: “Making sure that our roads, the potholes are maintained well, making sure that our bus services are running well, that’s all important.”
Rishi Sunak has said the Government is always making sure “we get value for money” when asked about HS2.
The PM has said he will “probably be driving” to Manchester for the Conservative Party conference on Saturday.
Asked on BBC Radio Manchester about his travel plans, he said: “I’ll probably be driving because train strikes have been put in place, which is very disappointing, actually, at a time when people are trying to just get around and do their regular business.
“Strikes are very disruptive on people and actually, that’s why we’ve taken action recently to pass new laws in Parliament that will ensure that you know, when people do strike, which is obviously their right, that we can put in place minimum levels of service.”
On whether he would be tempted to catch the train if there was an HS2 line in place, the Prime Minister said: “I would be catching the train on Saturday if there weren’t strikes.”
Pressed on the fact he has travelled by private jet before, he said: “I take lots of different forms of travel to get around. Mainly because it means I can squeeze more into my day. I’m working very hard to deliver for the country. There’s a lot going on. There’s a lot I’ve got to deal with. I spend every minute of my day working to deliver for people.”
Speaking to BBC Radio Manchester, the Prime Minister said about the high-speed railway: “I’m not speculating on future things. We’ve got spades in the ground right now, we’re getting on…
“Government is always making sure that we get value for money out of everything we do, but that’s just a statement of the obvious, right? But I think what people also should know because I know there’s a lot of focus on this one thing but actually, one of the journeys that people use most in Greater Manchester or across the North, it’s in their cars right now…”
He later added: “East-west, west-east connectivity across northern towns and cities is important. I’ve said it for years. Now I’m over on the east side of the North. I know that that connectivity across the Pennines is not good enough. And it’s not just Liverpool to Manchester, it’s all the way across the North.
“And that is probably the thing that will drive the most growth, create the most jobs if we can get that right. And that’s why we are investing in doing that. But we obviously need to do more, go further, but having greater frequency, greater capacity and shorter journey times all the way from Liverpool, all the way over to the east coast is actually I think the thing that will make the biggest difference to unlocking the massive potential across the North.”
Press Association – Sophie Wingate