Grant Shapps refuses to be drawn on whether he is still committed to HS2 from Birmingham to Leeds

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps refused to be drawn on whether he was still committed to the Eastern Leg of HS2, telling delegates at Conservative Party conference that “a lot has changed” since plans were first circulated.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps pictured on Downing Street in September 2021 (PA)

Rumours have been swirling for weeks that the Birmingham to Leeds section of the line could be delayed or scrapped amid financial pressures and other constraints.

When directly asked at a Manchester fringe event whether he was still committed to the eastern section, Mr Shapps said: “We will be saying much more about this with the Integrated Rail Plan so I don’t want to steal the thunder for you.”

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He added “As you know when HS2 was first thought about 15 - 20 years ago, we didn’t have Northern Powerhouse Rail, we didn’t have the Midlands Hub [..] A lot has changed.”

He later said: “Let me not be too drawn, I will let you hear the results of the IRP which is not far away as I already mentioned, and we do want to see people able to travel around more easily, get to places faster and with greater capacity so I won’t say more than that.”

In September, more than 60 business leaders across the UK demanded that the Government keep its promises to deliver HS2 in full, including to Yorkshire.

In the letter, leading rail, construction and engineering firms from the High Speed Rail Group (HSRG) and Railway Industry Association (RIA) called on the Prime Minister to offer clarity and certainty on the Eastern Leg, which they say will transform national connectivity by linking Yorkshire, the North East and East Midlands into the HS2 network.

They noted that “businesses have invested millions in people, in skills, in technology and in hardware to deliver HS2.

“To date, 16,000 people have been employed on the project, including over 500 apprentices. We had expected this to grow to 34,000 at peak construction, including 2,000 apprentices, over the coming years.

"Whilst cities like Leeds have built their economic and spatial strategies around the project. All of which is at risk should the Eastern leg be curtailed or, worse still, cancelled."