Reports of HS2 being scrapped are "nonsense", Rail Minister Andrew Jones tells Sheffield transport conference
The Rail Minister has described claims that the northern stages of HS2 will be scrapped as "nonsense" amid fears that the Government is planning to scale back the project because of its mounting costs.
Speaking at the Transport for the North conference in Sheffield today, Andrew Jones said cancelling any part of the flagship rail scheme connecting London to Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham would be a "betrayal of the North".
And the Harrogate MP said it was not a matter of choosing between HS2 and the £39bn Northern Powerhouse Rail project connecting the biggest cities of the North as "both are needed for our region".
He spoke amid reports that the Government is considering the future of HS2 due to concerns over its spiralling costs. A Channel 4 documentary airing tonight will claim that although published national accounts show HS2 will rise to an average cost of £4.2bn a year over the next ten years, Ministers have secretly allocated up to £6bn a year.
Mr Jones said some 2,000 business had already been handed contracts for HS2, which is due to operate its first trains in 2026 and arrive in Leeds by 2033.
And he said key decisions on Northern Powerhouse Rail would have to be made in the next year for the scheme to be included in the legislation for the northern stage of HS2 when it is laid in Parliament.
He said: "We have all probably seen some media reports claiming the northern stages of HS2 might not be built. They are nonsense.
"HS2 was conceived and developed and is now being delivered as a national railway, and in particular to improve links with the North and Midlands. Our commitment to HS2, a full network to Leeds and Manchester, is undiminished.
"As Chris [Grayling] has said previously, to do so, to cancel anything, would be a betrayal of the North.
"HS2 won't solve everything, it can't tackle the east-west links we need so badly, that is why we also need the Northern Powerhouse Rail. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a huge leap in unlocking the full potential of the North, complimenting the improvements that HS2 will bring and sharing parts of the infrastructure that HS2 will be creating.
"These are both transformational projects, they will be bring new life to the towns and cities of the North and free up capacity on our road and rail networks. It is not one or the other, it is both, both are needed for our region."
Northern leaders who make up the TfN board last week gave their approval for business case for Northern Powerhouse Rail, which officials say will help create 850,000 new jobs by 2050, to be submitted to government.
And Steve Rotheram, the Labour mayor of the Liverpool City Region, said it was vital for the scheme to get funding and be built before the proposed 'Crossrail 2' project providing a new North-South rail link across London.
He told the conference: "The coming weeks and months are crucial as the plan is put to government. Any suggestion that the Government is set to ignore this weight of evidence will confirm what many of us in this room have suspected for a long time, that the national government is committed to the re-balancing of the economy is name only.
"Anything other than full-blooded support for NPR from the Government will say to me that they have given up, given up on northern commuters, given up on northern jobs and businesses and ultimately given up on our northern towns and cities."