Rail Minister hits out at those using HS2 as a 'political football'

Ministers have joined forces to defend the controversial HS2 programme as they condemned opponents who they claimed are using the flagship rail scheme as a “political football” and undermining attempts to regenerate the North of England.

Rail Minister Andrew Jones at Leeds Railway Station. Credit: Bruce Rollinson

Rail Minister Andrew Jones and Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry heaped praise on the project, saying its role in “re-balancing” Britain’s economy and regenerating the North and the Midlands was “too important” to see it undermined.

Doubts over the future of the £60bn rail scheme were raised last month when Tory leadership contender and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss hinted that it could be scrapped.

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And it was dealt a further blow when a House of Lords report released on Friday called for a radical re-think of the plan, claiming it had “short-changed” the North of England and warning it was unlikely to be completed within budget.

In a separate report, the TaxPayers’ Alliance also called for HS2 to be mothballed, with chief executive John O’Connell, stating taxpayers were “demanding more for their money” and it was time to “scrap this white elephant” for more popular alternatives.

But Ministers hit back, with Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Mr Jones telling The Yorkshire Post: “HS2 is vital to the economic future of the North in terms of extra capacity and connectivity it will deliver.

“As the Transport Secretary has made clear - this is too important a project for not only the North, but the Midlands, Scotland, indeed the whole of the UK.

“This is a once-in-a-century project that delivers crucial long-term investment. The momentum for this project must be maintained. We cannot allow HS2 to become a short-term political football - it’s about maximising opportunity across Britain.”

Mr Berry added: “We remain absolutely focused on delivering HS2 for the North because it is the right thing to do. It’s at the heart of our clear plan for transforming rail services across the North and critical to re-balancing our economy.

“Businesses and local leaders across the Northern Powerhouse recognise how important HS2 is to their communities and we agree with them.”

In an interview with The Yorkshire Post’s Vision magazine, the CBI’s director-general, Carolyn Fairbairn also defended the project, saying it could make a huge contribution towards the wealth of Yorkshire.

“We back the HS2 scheme arriving in Leeds by 2033 very strongly,” she said. “The contribution that HS2 could make to Leeds and Yorkshire is terrific.

“I think that sometimes sight is lost of the importance of connectivity across the North.

“It is seen as just about a North/South artery, whereas we know the connection between Leeds and Manchester and all the parts of the North is what is really going to be unlocked by HS2.”

Responding to the recent criticism of HS2, the director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, Henri Murison, said: “Northerners are not going to stand for cancelling HS2 in order to pay for a list of schemes decided by a bunch of Westminster bubble types trying to impress Tory leadership candidates.”