Boris Johnson hints he will press ahead with HS2. But why?

9 December 2019 By Paul Martin

Boris Johnson has given the strongest hint yet that he will approve the High Speed 2 rail project if he wins the election, but said he was looking for savings in a budget that could run to “the thick end of £100bn”. Mr Johnson, speaking on the campaign trail in the north-east of England, said HS2 was a project of “great national importance”; it is also of special importance to Tory target seats in this election. The UK’s flagship infrastructure project — which aims to improve travel times between the north and the south of England by creating high speed rail connections between some of its biggest cities — has been hit by a decade of political and financial problems with the cost of the proposed railway soaring by £26bn to £88bn. In August the prime minister commissioned Douglas Oakervee, the former chair of HS2, to assess the project. The prime minister said he would make a “go/no go decision” after the election based on an official report into the project, but he is under huge pressure from politicians in the Midlands and north of England to press ahead. Speaking to reporters in the seaside town of Saltburn in north Yorkshire,, Mr Johnson said: “You have to look at the size of the bill. It’s huge. You have to consider the thick end of £100bn is being properly spent and whether we are profiling that spend correctly.” I’m going to hesitate before simply scrapping something that has been long planned and is of great national importance Boris Johnson Mr Johnson has also faced pressure from Conservatives in southern seats affected by the high speed route to scrap the line, but he said: “You know where my instincts are. “I’ve overseen a great number of very big infrastructure projects. I’m going to hesitate before simply scrapping something that has been long planned and is of great national importance. “But we will want to be checking the money is being properly spent and there aren’t ways in which it could be reprioritised or reprofiled.” According to an early draft of the review, Mr Oakervee has rejected the idea of cutting back the eastern leg of the project’s second phase, from Birmingham to Leeds — an idea discussed by a 10-person advisory panel. But he has suggested that cost savings could be found by cutting the number of trains per hour from a maximum of 18 to 14 on the line linking London with Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.

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