Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has called on the Government to “stick to the most ambitious version” of HS2, following reports the eastern leg of the railway could be scrapped.
Mr Burnham made the plea to the Government at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, while setting out a bid for cash to support his ambitions for “London-style” public transport in the city.
Speaking at the conference on Monday, the city’s Labour mayor said of the high-speed rail scheme: “I would say stick to the most ambitious version. In the end that capital investment will build a more productive North.
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“To be honest, penny pinching won’t make sense in the – I don’t think – in the long run.
“The more you cut it back, you almost think ‘what’s the point in doing it at all?’, unless you are doing the most ambitious version of it that unlocks the most growth.”
In an interview with the Financial Times, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said ministers will not “blindly follow” plans drawn up almost two decades ago.
Mr Shapps signalled that a major rethink of the high-speed rail project’s eastern phase between Birmingham and Leeds could be in order.
The section of HS2 between London and Birmingham is currently being built, and two future phases running from Birmingham to Leeds and from Birmingham to Manchester have been proposed.
At the Conservative conference, Mr Burnham appealed to the Tory-run UK Government to commit cash to making a “London-style” integrated transport system for Greater Manchester which would “help to make your levelling up agenda real for people”.
The Greater Manchester mayor also called for cheaper “London level fares” on the network he has proposed, which would see trams running in and out of the city, supported by “orbital” bus routes.
He said: “We can create that London-style system over bus and tram by May 2024. This isn’t something that is about decades away and promises that the public will never feel. This can happen and it can happen very quickly indeed.
“It can then also be a template for Leeds, for Liverpool, for Newcastle. We can show how it can be made to work and then obviously can be taken elsewhere.”
Mr Burnham added that Greater Manchester has set aside £150 million to “part pay” for the scheme, but that central government levelling up money would make it better.
He said: “It is about that extra funding to get the frequency into services, the fares down, all of that is what makes a difference.”