Tory MPs await Northern transport package as HS2 alternative

The North could lose both high speed rail from London as well as between its east and west coasts, Tory sources have warned ahead of Rishi Sunak’s headline speech at Conservative Party conference in Manchester.

Yesterday Rishi Sunak again refused to comment on reports that he will on Wednesday announce that he will scrap the Northern leg of HS2 to link London and Manchester after costs for the high speed rail project ballooned from £55 billion to almost £100 billion in five years.

It is expected that the Prime Minister will go ahead with the move and plough billions of pounds of the savings into transport upgrades across the North, noting on Tuesday that “east to west is the biggest concern most people have.”

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However, Government sources warned that the final package is likely not to be the same scale of the east-west connectivity of Northern Powerhouse Rail, dubbed High Speed 3, or a Northern version of Crossrail, dubbed the “Charles Line”, linking Hull and Liverpool as demanded by Northern Tory MPs earlier this week.

Rishi Sunak is expected to announce a package of transport investment for the North from the savings made from HS2Rishi Sunak is expected to announce a package of transport investment for the North from the savings made from HS2
Rishi Sunak is expected to announce a package of transport investment for the North from the savings made from HS2

Senior Tories last night noted that colleagues representing seats in the North may settle for upgraded transport links in and between their local areas, if backed by enough funding.

Tens of billions invested in Northern trains could be enough to avoid a potential Tory rebellion, if the package is brought before MPs, but one senior Tory suggested that upgrades to transport such as busses, motorways and potholes, will not be enough to placate many colleagues.

One noted that if the issue was forced to come before Parliament, then the Government may not have the sufficient numbers to force through legislation that does not satisfy large numbers from groups such as the Northern Research Group of Tory MPs and those elected under Boris Johnson.

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The Times reported this week that members of Mr Sunak’s cabinet had successfully intervened in order to make sure that the line between Birmingham and London will now terminate in central London rather than the suburb of Old Oak Common in the west of the capital.

Bradford has already been earmarked for potential investment with a 2-year study into Bradford and Leeds connectivity launched in July, and is one of the areas that could see an announcement by Mr Sunak.

On Tuesday, Lee Anderson, the deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, asked a fringe event: “Would you want to get there quicker?” when asked about Bradford.

When asked to clarify his comments by The Yorkshire Post, Mr Anderson said that his comments had been taken out of context and that it was “just a bit of fun” and wouldn’t have minded if someone had made the same comment about his own constituency of Ashfield.

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Downing Street did not distance the Prime Minister from Mr Anderson’s comments when approached for comment.

Yesterday Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, pulled out of a fringe event with George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse Partnership, days after flying to Manchester due to its poor rail services.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post ahead of the announcement, Oliver Coppard, Labour’s Mayor of South Yorkshire, said: “To come to North with a half-baked, half-baked plan and row back on the promises they’ve made to the North over the last decade is unconscionable.

“This Government simply doesn’t have the courage of their convictions or their ability to deliver this big project because they have mismanaged it from day one.

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“The closest Rishi Sunak gets to South Yorkshire is when he flys over it on his private jet. You can have a constituency in Yorkshire but it doesn't mean you understand Yorkshire.”

In a joint-statement with her counterpart in the region, Tracy Brabin, the Mayor of West Yorkshire, added: “This isn't about big trains — it's about real lives and hard economics.

“As the Prime Minister prepares to row back on his commitments to the other side of the Pennines, we will reject any attempt to pit the north against the north, and call on the Government to come good on its promises to invest in HS2 and level up the country.”