Andy Street 'half expects' HS2 Eastern leg to be delayed

The mayor of the West Midlands has said he is “half expecting” the HS2 route from Birmingham to Leeds to be delayed, amid rumours that the project has been scrapped amid budget constraints.

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street speaks to media outside the West Midlands Combined Authority offices in Birmingham (PA/Steve Parsons)

The high-speed rail project is intended to run from London to Birmingham and then onwards in two off-shoots: one north to Manchester, (the Western leg), and another north to Leeds, the (Eastern leg).

In recent weeks there have been unverified reports that the Treasury wants the eastern route of HS2 scrapped as part of a round of spending cuts to tackle Britain’s deficit, which has ballooned to more than £300bn, or 14.5 per cent of GDP, following the pandemic.

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Andy Street, who represents Birmingham in his role as the Conservative mayor of the West Midlands thinks the Government still wants to complete the rail route, but that finances mean a delay or other issues are likely.

Mr Street believes that “it's by building the whole of it that you get the benefit” and speaking to The Yorkshire Post he said: “I think [the Government] will say, ‘we still want to do this is still the right thing to do long term’.

“I strongly believe that myself as well, but we do have to acknowledge that the financial situation in the country is more difficult than it was a couple of years ago when the decision was taken to proceed.”

“For that reason, I am half expecting that the leaks that there have been will be proven to be true that there will be a delay on the Eastern leg,” he added.

Mr Street, who was the boss of retail firm John Lewis for around a decade before he was elected to the mayoralty in 2017, said when the Government may think it will be financially viable to press on with the Eastern leg could depend on “what alternatives are put in place”.

He explained: “If Leeds gets its fast link to Manchester there might be a very different judgement of the link from Nottingham to Leeds, for example than if that link across the Pennines is not built.”

He described it as an “impossible question, because it does so depend on what alternatives are put in place.”

Regional mayors across England - including Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester, and Dan Jarvis and Tracy Brabin in South and West Yorkshire respectively - have thrown their support behind the HS2 project

Mr Street said he believes local mayors can “influence an outcome” on projects such as this but added: “that was only because there was a good economic case on our side”.

“People said that I was arguably the leader of the campaign to get the thing built, and the Prime Minister jokes that I cost him a lot of money,” he quipped.

A spokesman for the Department of Transport said: “The Integrated Rail Plan will soon outline exactly how major rail projects, including HS2 phase 2b and other transformational projects such as Northern Powerhouse Rail, will work together to deliver the reliable train services that passengers across the North and Midlands need and deserve.”