Yesterday, the BBC claimed that the Transport Department is planning to announce a new rail plan on Thursday that will involve £96bn in funding for routes in the North and Midlands. But this will involve scrapping the original plans for an eastern branch of HS2 that would include Leeds.
Instead, two shorter high-speed routes created in part by upgrading existing lines will be developed. HS2 trains will still ultimately travel to Leeds, but on the older lines at reduced speeds.
Shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said ministers were attempting to “quietly back out” of infrastructure schemes that they had “committed to dozens of times”.
Naz Shah, Labour MP for Bradford West, said: “This is Boris pulling the whole damn rug from under our feet and ripping up the floor behind him.”
The move from the Government may be an attempt to stymie the project’s spiralling budget, which jumped by £1.7bn in the last year alone.
This was partially blamed on the suspension of work at most sites at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, combined with social-distancing measures causing delays and reduced productivity.
But the cost of the entire project has been rising ever since its £55.7bn budget was announced in 2015. It is now thought it could cost the taxpayer nearly £100bn.
Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, told Times Radio: “By cutting the eastern leg it does reduce the overall benefits of the whole project.
“So the challenge for Government is they’re having to still justify pretty much the same bill.
“You’re still going to have to spend some money on upgrades in the north of England – there isn’t a model for improving the economy up here that doesn’t involve new infrastructure.
“But if you chip away at the new lines, you still have to spend money on upgrades.”
A spokesman for Boris Johnson said: “We are committed to transforming rail connections across the Midlands and the North with shorter journey times and an accelerated timetable for delivery that allows us to bring in real benefits to communities as soon as possible.
“This will be a significant investment of taxpayers’ money and it will take some time to deliver.
“What we want to do is make sure that it is delivered as fast as possible so that people see real tangible improvements to their journey times.”
The London-centric Crossrail project has also had monetary issues and is currently facing a £150m shortfall after years of rising budgets.