HS2 costs would make it "very difficult" to scrap first phase of project

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The volume of cash "sunk" into HS2 would make scrapping it in its entirety "very difficult", the head of the public spending watchdog has suggested.

Sir Amyas Morse, the outgoing chief of the National Audit Office (NAO), said the country would have to be in "a lot of economic trouble" to pull the plug on the mammoth project.

An artist's impression of how HS2 could look.

An artist's impression of how HS2 could look.

There have been calls from some MPs to cancel the planned high-speed railway, which has a £55.7 billion budget, and invest the cash in infrastructure projects elsewhere.

Under the current plans, the first phase of HS2 will see a new line connecting London and Birmingham, while a second phase is due to extend the railway to Manchester and Leeds.

Speaking to the BBC's Westminster Hour, Sir Aymas suggested the first phase would have to be completed due to the cost and work already incurred.

He said: "There is a point where there's not much point thinking you can go back. Are we at that point on HS2? It's difficult for me to say.

"It might be that we still haven't quite crossed the Rubicon on it, but pretty soon we'll have sunk so much in buying land, building track and so forth, that it would be very difficult not to at least go to Birmingham."

He added: "I think that to pull HS2 now, we'd have to be in a lot of economic trouble."

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The NAO has investigated the project's acquisition of land on the London to West Midlands section after concerns were raised over how much it was estimated to cost.

The watchdog said estimates of the cost of land and property had "increased significantly over time", although such estimates are inherently hard to get right.

Nevertheless, some MPs have been highly critical of the cost of the project.

Last month Andrew Bridgen, Tory MP for North West Leicestershire, labelled it a "white elephant that grows ever larger on huge amounts of taxpayers' cash".

Former minister Dame Cheryl Gillan had asked an urgent question in the Commons, saying it was "almost impossible to hold this monster to account".

Former Cabinet minister David Davis also called for the project to be cancelled and the funds spent elsewhere on the rail network.

The New Economics Foundation think tank also warned that the project would widen the north-south divide by drawing passengers towards the capital.

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