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Thursday, June 13, 2019

£56 billion HS2 project spend to be reviewed, says minister

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HS2 – the multi-billion pound train line which is set to come through Long Eaton and stop at Toton – will be scrutinised by the Government, according to Conservative treasury minister Liz Truss.

The new train line – which is currently set to cost £56 billion – will be assessed by the Government in a budget review, the minister said.

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It comes after two TV documentaries separately claimed that ministers were briefing against the project.

But after business leaders and politicians from across the East Midlands came together to voice their support for the scheme, Theresa May said the Government remained committed to HS2.

HS2, one of the largest infrastructure projects in British history, has been controversial since it was first proposed.

Supporters argue it is crucial in addressing the economic imbalance in the country, and will help improve growth in the Midlands and the North.

But critics say it is overpriced and environmentally damaging, and that the money could be better spent.

Now, the deputy chancellor and Conservative leadership hopeful Liz Truss has fuelled new speculation over the scheme’s future.

As Chief Secretary to the Treasury, she is in charge of the influential spending review, due later this year.

In an interview with centre-right news magazine the Spectator, she was asked whether she would consider scrapping HS2.

She replied: “That’s a matter for the zero-based capital review that I’ll be looking at very intently.”

She went on to say: “What really drives local economies is transport around counties. Transport into cities. That’s what makes a difference to why a business decides to locate somewhere.

“We have to be rigorous about what infrastructure is going to maximise opportunities for people.”

Later in the year, the Treasury plans to look at all Government projects, and identify which are over budget or likely to be so. That review will look again at HS2, she confirmed.

When asked about Ms Truss’ comments, a spokesman for HS2 Ltd said: “HS2 will connect eight out of 10 of the biggest cities in the country from Scotland to the South East, join up nearly half of the UK population, and deliver £92 billion of benefits to the UK economy.

“The new railway will take intercity trains off the existing lines, create more space for extra commuter trains and take lorries off the road as freight moves to rail, reducing congestion for drivers on our motorways. There are benefits from HS2 for every traveller.

“Work is well underway at 250 sites on the Phase One route, supporting 7,000 jobs and opportunities for 2,000 businesses. HS2 will be reviewed, in the same way as all projects and programmes across Government, in the forthcoming spending review, announced in the Chancellor’s Spring Statement shortly after the committee session concluded.”

Penny Gaines, of campaign group Stop HS2, said: “I think it’s really good Government ministers are having a proper look at HS2.

“The more people look at it the worse the idea is, and we think it ought to be scrapped as soon as possible.

“The official figures are that it will cost £56 billion, but there’s widespread recognition that it will come in wildly over that budget.

“The Government is currently doing a new business case, which they have to do before they give notice to proceed for Phase One (The part of HS2 which goes from London to Birmingham).

“There is a lot of preparatory work going on, and we think that should be paused while HS2 is being looked at again.”

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