Rishi Sunak has denied that people feel betrayed by his wavering over the future of HS2 as he remained tight-lipped over its fate.
The Prime Minister, giving a string of local broadcast interviews on Thursday, hit out at “speculation” but declined to set out his position in response to dozens of questions over whether he will scrap the rail project’s Birmingham to Manchester leg over soaring costs.
The Government is always making sure “we get value for money”, he said, as he stressed the importance of funding forms of transport he said are “in many places far more important to people’s day-to-day lives” such as local bus services in rural areas and fixing potholes.
During his whirlwind tour of local radio and TV channels ahead of the Conservative Party conference, the Prime Minister was asked by BBC Radio York whether he would be betraying the North by curtailing the high-speed rail line.
Mr Sunak replied: “No. I think what people will see, I mean particularly around where we are – my home is in Northallerton – we’re investing record amounts in improving infrastructure but also delivering levelling up.”
He said the Government is “investing record sums in transport infrastructure”.
“When I speak to people when I’m at home or anywhere else around, what everyone tells me is that you’ve got to make it easier to get around all our northern towns and cities, whether it’s Hull, York, Leeds, Sheffield, all the way over to Liverpool. Connecting all those cities up is really important and we’re doing that.
“But also investing in the local transport that people use every day, making sure that our potholes are filled, making sure that our bus services are running – particularly important in rural areas like mine.”
The Prime Minister repeatedly refused to answer whether HS2’s northern leg will go ahead, with the issue likely to dominate his party’s conference starting in Manchester on Sunday.
The Times reported this week that Mr Sunak is “alarmed” at the soaring costs associated with the high-profile project, but he has faced a backlash from Tory grandees, businesses and local politicians who have urged him to stick to the levelling up plan.
“Government is always making sure that we get value for money out of everything we do,” he told the city’s local BBC radio station.
Asked whether he believes the project is value for money, Mr Sunak told BBC North West Tonight: “The reality of HS2 is that the costs have doubled since it was originally budgeted for in 2012.”
He insisted he is “always listening” to different opinions on the matter, while emphasising his focus on “making the right long-term decisions for the country”.
The Prime Minister shrugged off concerns his indecision over HS2 is damaging investment, talking up other measures to boost business such as freeports.
The Prime Minister many times noted during the various interviews “there are spades in the ground” to build phase one of HS2 between Birmingham and Old Oak Common in the capital’s western suburbs.
Fending off criticism over terminating the line six miles to the west of central London, instead of at Euston, Mr Sunak said Old Oak Common is a “world-class station” with “fantastic” connections to most London destinations.
“I don’t think it’s right to talk down Old Oak Common in any way shape or form,” he told BBC London.
Challenged over the “mess” of the rail network in the North, Mr Sunak acknowledged there are “challenges” which he blamed on the Covid-19 pandemic.
He suggested most journeys are made by car, saying: “Making sure that our roads, the potholes are maintained well, making sure that our bus services are running well, that’s all important.”
Mr Sunak said he will “probably be driving” to the Tory conference “because train strikes have been put in place, which is very disappointing actually at a time when people are trying to just get around and do their regular business”.
“I would be catching the train on Saturday if there weren’t strikes,” he said.
Enjoy the convenience of having The Sunday Post delivered as a digital ePaper straight to your smartphone, tablet or computer.
Subscribe for only £5.49 a month and enjoy all the benefits of the printed paper as a digital replica.Subscribe