There was fresh doubt over Labour’s commitment to HS2 last night after the Shadow Transport Secretary questioned whether the project is “the right way” to spend billions of pounds of public funds.
Wakefield MP Mary Creagh said HS2 is still in its “very early days” and refused to give a cast-iron guarantee that Labour will continue to back the scheme if it comes to power in 2015.
Her intervention again raises the spectre of Labour pulling the plug on the north of England’s biggest infrastructure scheme in a generation, amid vociferous opposition from local communities which will be affected along the route.
Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls first voiced doubts about HS2 at last autumn’s Labour Party conference, although under subsequent pressure from his backbenchers leader Ed Miliband insisted he “supports HS2”.
Consequently, Ms Creagh announced last week that Labour will back the HS2 Bill when it returns to the House of Commons for its second reading on April 29.
But in an interview with House magazine, conducted earlier this month but published last night, she appeared to question the party’s long-term commitment to the project.
“Ed Balls is absolutely right to look again at the costs,” Ms Creagh said. “You see the costs ballooning, no real account given of why that is happening, apart from the risk of delay from a fairly incompetent Government across all sorts of transport projects.
“And you say – hang on a minute, we’re going to be facing austerity in 2015. Is this the right way to spend the money? Obviously it’s right for us to look at that. “It’s been beset by controversy, and of course the costs have gone up as time has dragged on. We want to see those costs coming down... But it’s clear, we’ve said there’s no blank cheque for the project.”
In a further sign of Labour’s deep divisions over the issue, Ms Creagh said HS2 has not been discussed by the Shadow Cabinet since she took over the transport brief last October.