Boris Johnson hints bill for HS2 may have climbed to £100bn amid fears he could be primed to scrap the project
Speaking to Nick Ferrari on radio station LBC this morning, Boris Johnson was asked whether money should keep going into the rail scheme which is planned to connect Leeds to London, Birmingham, the East Midlands, and Manchester.
Mr Johnson said: “We’ve got a review going on to look at whether the money could be better spent, and that’s not to say that I am temperamentally hostile to big infrastructure projects.
“I think that the issue for anybody looking at HS2 - a new administration - if you come in with a project that is north of £100bn probably, you’ve got to ask yourself if it’s responsible to the taxpayer, to ask if it’s being sensibly spent and is that funding being prioritised right. You know, could you spend it more sensibly in the North?”
Up until now the bill for HS2 had been set at £88bn, and when challenged Mr Johnson admitted this was the current estimate, but he said he expected it to be pushed higher still.
He said: “Looking at the way these things go, it probably will come in north of £100bn but at the moment you are right, at the moment it’s £88bn.
“That is a lot of money. And there will be serious questions about whether that is the right… the question is are we spending it in the right order?”
The Oakervee review into HS2 was due to be released before the election, however it was shelved when it became clear the country would go to the polls.
Shortly before Parliament was dissolved then York Central Labour MP and Shadow Transport Minister Rachael Maskell said in the Commons: “Not only has the Williams Review not yet seen the light of day but the Oakervee Review is ready. His team have pulled out all the stops to get this to the minister next week.
“So why is the Secretary of State saying he will not publish it until after the General Election? Is it because he intends to cut off the economic opportunities of the North or is he worried it will upset voters in the South?”
Asked by Mr Ferrari whether he had made the figure up Mr Johnson said: “No, if you look at a project like HS2, which will stretch on for decades, you look at it’s current budget, it will probably be very expensive, I think it will probably come in at more than £100bn, that’s my guess.”
Henri Murison, Director of Northern Powerhouse Partnership said: “Only the Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos have unequivocally backed HS2, and although there was a positive shift in the Conservative manifesto acknowledging the need to work with northern leaders, there is still a risk to the delivery of the new lines we need, such as from the Midlands to Leeds.
“If in these comments Boris Johnson is trying to say we should start building from North to South he should have been more specific, as I am certain this intervention will very much disappoint a number of business leaders.”
He added: “In this election, we have seen candidates right across Yorkshire like Rachel Reeves in Leeds West to Kevin Hollinrake in Thirsk and Malton take the Connecting Britain pledge, showing the cross-party backing for HS2 alongside Northern Powerhouse Rail, despite some disappointing exceptions.
“The Northern Powerhouse Independent Review on HS2 highlighted that alongside higher costs than originally anticipated, the benefits of the project had also been vastly underestimated, with further analysis necessary to quantify these in full.”