HS2: north transport leader hits out at Rishi Sunak’s ‘lies’ over northern rail project
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A key transport leader in the north has accused Rishi Sunak of lying over the relationship between HS2 and other northern rail projects - hours before the government announced it is scrapping the Manchester-Birmingham section.
The Prime Minister failed to answer on numerous occasions about speculation he is set to axe the Birmingham-to-Manchester leg of the high speed rail project. Sunak has spoken instead about focusing on the “people’s priorities” such as the importance of driving, and also hinted money could get reallocated to the proposed east to west line - known as Northern Powerhouse Rail.
However Northern Powerhouse Partnership chief executive Henri Murison hit out at this suggestion as “dishonest” for failing to acknowledge that any trans-Pennine line is currently impossible without the section of HS2 from Manchester Piccadilly to the airport.
Murison made the comments at the Big Transport Fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, with Rail and HS2 Minister Huw Merriman on the panel.
He said: “Why is building Northern Powerhouse Rail, which depends on HS2 between Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Airport, not one of the people’s priorities?
“Why on earth would the government consider that cancelling both the new line across the Pennines, which last week the Prime Minister said to BBC Radio Manchester was nothing to do with HS2?
“Why on earth would the government not be honest about the fact that without HS2 between Birmingham and Manchester, you have to put £15bn back into Northern Powerhouse Rail to avoid cancelling NPR as well.”
And referencing comments from Sunak to BBC Radio Manchester, that the east to west line was unrelated to HS2, he asked Merriman: “Will his colleagues and the Prime Minister stop claiming that HS2 has nothing to do with Northern Powerhouse Rail, because I don’t mind having a policy debate but I’m sick of being lied to, and people being dishonest in the media.”
He also made the point that polling from the Northern Powerhouse Partnership in marginal seats in the North found the majority of people were in favour of keeping HS2 between Birmingham and Manchester, and this proportion got higher amongst Conservative voters.
Merriman responded by saying: “Things will become clear soon, and when they are I believe that will be the right thing for this country.”
He explained: “The problem with HS2 is well documented. It’s gone over budget, it’s gone over time but we are delivering it. People say it all the time, we’ve got spades in the ground, we’ve got tunnel boring in the ground - it’s getting delivered right now by a great team of people.
“It’s a project that’s beset with difficulties, what’s really important is, again I come back to the rail budget, I know it’s boring, if all of the rail budget goes on HS2, then it gets lost on other projects.”