HS2 set for green light as chancellor 'backs controversial line'

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
Chancellor Sajid Javid is expected to back HS2. Photo: PA

The UK government looks set to press ahead with the controversial high-speed two (HS2) rail line, with the chancellor said to have thrown his weight behind the project.

Prime minister Boris Johnson is set to hold a meeting with chancellor Sajid Javid and transport secretary Grant Shapps this week to thrash out a final decision on HS2.

Javid is “supportive” of the plans despite the spiralling costs and construction delays to the north-south line, according to briefings by officials to several news outlets overnight.

It marks the strongest sign yet that the Johnson’s administration will give the green light for building work to continue, though no announcement is expected imminently.

The prime minister left the project in limbo by ordering a review, but has previously signalled his “instinct” is to back the line. In the past week two other cabinet members have hinted the line will get the go-ahead.

The government has already spent at least £7.4bn on Europe’s biggest infrastructure project, with preparatory work already underway at more than 250 locations.

READ MORE: Government ‘underestimated’ HS2 risks as £106bn line on the brink

The line would run from London Euston to Birmingham before forking into two separate routes, one to Leeds and the other to Crewe and Manchester.

Backers say it will improve journey times and the frequency of services, as well as freeing up capacity on shorter commuter lines in the Midlands and the north.

But the management of the project has repeatedly come under fire, including from many Conservative MPs in parliament this week. Some critics argue cash would be far better spent on improving existing rail or bus links.

Protesters against HS2. Photo: PA

Campaign groups also warn of vast damage to natural habitats, while as many as 10,000 people could receive compensation as tens of thousands of sites along the route are compulsorily purchased by government.

The project was initially priced at £56bn in 2015, but costs have ballooned and a recent leaked review for the government suggested they could reach £106bn.

READ MORE: War of words as expert claims costs ‘out of control’

A report by the National Audit Office last week said it was not even possible to calculate the final cost of the project, managed by government-owned HS2 Ltd.

The first phase of the route was due to open in 2026, but services from Euston are now only expected from 2031 and the full line may only be running from 2040.

The NAO said the department for transport based timescales on other infrastructure projects, but “did not take into account” sufficiently how much larger and more complex HS2 was.

Officials also failed to put aside high enough contingency budgets in a bid to keep costs down, according to the NAO. This left inadequate spare cash and pushed up costs when the design became more detailed and issues like poor ground conditions later emerged.

READ MORE: Crossrail delayed again as costs soar on new London line