POLITICS
11/02/2020 12:38 GMT | Updated 11/02/2020 15:12 GMT

Boris Johnson Backs HS2 Rail In Decision Which Will Split Tories

The prime minister gives the green light to the north-south rail link despite a review warning its cost could balloon to £106bn.

Boris Johnson has defied Tory opposition to approve the controversial HS2 high-speed rail link, despite a review estimating its cost could balloon by tens of billions.

The prime minister gave the green light to the north-south link after discussing it with the cabinet on Tuesday morning.

The first stages of the railway from London to Birmingham to Crewe will go ahead as planned, but Johnson signalled there could rethink about the further links north to Leeds and Manchester. 

Speaking in the Commons on Tuesday, Johnson said it would help “fix the spine” of the country.

Johnson’s decision will cause anger among dozens of Tories who are opposed to HS2.

But it will equally be welcomed by a group of around 40 colleagues who lobbied him to keep it on track.

Johnson told the Commons: “Our generation faces an historic choice.

“We can try to get by with the existing routes from north to south, we can consign the next generation to overcrowding, standing up in the carriageways.

“Or we can have the guts to take a decision... no matter how difficult and how controversial, that will deliver prosperity to every part of the country.” 

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The PM took his decision despite the opposition of his most senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, to the project.

It comes after a review by HS2 Ltd chairman Douglas Oakervee found that the project could cost up to £106bn, but concluded that “on balance” it should continue.

HS2′s original budget was £32.7bn at 2011 prices. The National Audit Office warned last month it was impossible to “estimate with certainty” what the final cost could be.

It was due to open in December 2026, but HS2 Ltd chairman Allan Cook said last year it would be “prudent to plan for an opening between 2028 and 2031”.

Johnson stressed that despite “poor management” he believes in the “fundamental value” of HS2.

But he vowed to take “decisive action” to “restore discipline” to the project.

He will appoint an HS2 minister to oversee the project and help bring down costs.

HS2 Ltd will deliver the first phase will go ahead as planned at current costs of £35-45bn, Johnson said. 

Johnson said: “If we start now, services could be running by the end of the decade

“So today the cabinet has given high speed rail the green signal. We are going to get this done.” 

A separate company will be set up to look at the redevelopment of Euston station in London and the extension of HS2 to Manchester and Leeds, the PM signalled.

Johnson added that before these designs are finalised and legislation is introduced, the government will “introduce an integrated plan for rail in the north”.

And he stressed this would not be an “either-or” choice between HS2 and northern powerhouse rail to link Liverpool, Manchester, Bradford and Leeds across the Pennines.

“Some have suggested delaying or even cancelling HS2 in order to get northern powerhouse rail done more quickly.

“But I want to say to you, Mr Speaker and to the House, this is not an either-or proposition.

“Both are needed, and both will be built as quickly and as cost-effectively as possible.”

A handful of Tory MPs raised concerns about Johnson’s decision but there was no major revolt on the Commons floor.

Lichfield MP Michael Fabricant warned the railway will cause “immense” damage to the countryside.

Andrew Bridgen for North West Leicestershire told the chamber HS2 is “unloved, unwanted and has been grossly mismanaged”.

Buckingham MP Greg Smith said the railway would cause “blight” to communities up and down the route, “not just on the landscape, but people’s lives”.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn warned that Johnson “promised so much in the general election” to people in the Midlands and the north, but they will be “sorely disappointed when they see what actually happens”.

He claimed the government has “proved itself unable to manage infrastructure projects properly and incapable of keeping a lid on the cost”.

The Confederation of British Industry welcomed the decision with chief UK policy director Matthew Fell saying it was “exactly the sort of bold, decisive action required to inject confidence in the economy”.

But Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said Johnson’s decision would give him the “dubious honour of being this century’s largest destroyer of ancient woodlands in the UK”.