Grant Shapps: 'Starting construction of HS2 in North would probably have been sensible'

Grant Shapps has said he will not be "chopping and changing" plans for HS2 even though he admitted it would "probably have been sensible" to start construction in the North.

Construction work on phase one of the project from London to Birmingham is ongoing.

Phase 2a is planned to run from Birmingham to Crewe, and Phase 2b from Crewe to Manchester, and from Birmingham to Leeds, but there has been doubt over whether the Yorkshire leg would go ahead.

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Speaking in the House of Commons, Labour former minister Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) said: “Given that the National Infrastructure Bank is going to be based in Leeds, wouldn’t it be highly symbolic to start building phase 2b of the eastern leg of HS2 from Leeds southwards?

Workers prepare the moulds for the concrete tunnel headwall in one of the two pre-cast factories built at the HS2 construction site in Chiltern, Buckinghamshire, ahead of tunnelling to start in 2021. Photo: PA

“The Secretary of State was quoted recently as saying he’s looking at bringing forward the start date.

“I wonder whether he would consider this idea?”

Mr Shapps replied: “I actually agree with (Mr Benn). It probably would have been sensible to start the entire project from the north-south in the first place.

“However, having looked at this in great detail – not least with the Oakervee Review – I also know chopping and changing those plans partway through is the most expensive possible outcome and doesn’t work out.

“Nonetheless, we are committed to ensuring the integrated rail plan answers all these questions and his point has been very clearly heard.”

The Government-commissioned Oakervee Review warned last year that the final bill for HS2 could reach £106bn at 2019 prices.