Abandon HS2 ‘omnishambles’, Williamson urges Sunak

Sir Gavin Williamson
Sir Gavin Williamson called the ‘ill-fated’ rail link a ‘disastrous venture’

Rishi Sunak must abandon HS2 because it has become an “omnishambles of epic proportions”, a former Cabinet minister has said.

Sir Gavin Williamson, a former education secretary and defence secretary, urged the Prime Minister to “put the brakes on” the high-speed rail project and said there was “no logical case” to see it through.

The line north of Birmingham, said to be under review, would have passed through Sir Gavin’s constituency of South Staffordshire.

In a scathing blog post, he called the “ill-fated” rail link a “disastrous venture”, with a balance sheet that makes “sobering reading”. He also warned of serious financial, social and environmental costs and “real and undeniable harms” caused by HS2 to local communities.

Mr Sunak is said to be considering scrapping the line north of Birmingham to Manchester and ending the route in west London rather than at Euston after costs soared.

Initial estimates that the scheme would deliver £2.40 of benefit for each pound of public money spent have gradually been reduced to 90p – a figure expected to fall further still.

An announcement had been expected as soon as this week but it is likely to be delayed amid concerns over the optics of scrapping the Manchester leg days before the Conservatives arrive in the city for their annual conference.

Grant Shapps, the former transport secretary who now heads the Ministry of Defence, said this week that it would be “crazy” not to review the plans for HS2 given the financial situation.

Mr Sunak is facing criticism from Andy Burnham, the Greater Manchester mayor, and George Osborne, the former chancellor, who have demanded that he press ahead.

But Sir Gavin said: “What is perhaps the strongest argument against this omnishambles of epic proportions is the real and undeniable harms it will wreak on local communities.

“This impact cannot be adequately summarised by numbers on a spreadsheet, nor can it truly be understood by reading the highbrow policy papers of Westminster think tanks.

“It can only be comprehended by going out and speaking to those who will see their communities, their livelihoods, and their surroundings destroyed by HS2.”

Meanwhile, Lord Hague, a former Tory leader, told Times Radio the HS2 project had become a “national disgrace” and said: “It should have been cancelled a few years ago when it was clear that the whole thing was out of control, that the costs were out of control, they wouldn’t be able to ever go to Leeds.”

In July, The Telegraph revealed that the future of HS2 was in question after the official infrastructure watchdog warned that the “successful delivery” of the project “appears to be unachievable”.

Separately, a leaked document showed that a plan to strip back the proposed Euston terminal would still result in a £1 billion overspend.

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