Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has said he did not see “any conceivable circumstances” in which HS2 would not run to its planned central London terminus at Euston, amid reports that section of the route could be axed because of rising costs.
Rishi Sunak also insisted that the Government is “committed to delivering all the plans that it’s announced with rail”.
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The Government refused to confirm HS2 will reach its central London terminus at Euston amid reports the planned new station may be delayed or scrapped because of rising costs.
The Sun said soaring inflation means the high-speed rail project may not run to Euston until 2038 or be scrapped completely, with trains instead stopping at a new hub at Old Oak Common in west London’s suburbs.
The paper also reported that a two to five-year delay to the entire project is being considered.
Complexities around the Euston site meant high-speed services were already due to temporarily start and end at Old Oak Common, with passengers using the Elizabeth line to travel to and from central London.
A “full business case” for HS2 published by the Department for Transport in April 2020 stated that the target timeframe for services launching between Old Oak Common and Birmingham was 2029-2033, whereas for trains between Euston and north-west England the range was 2031-2036.
The document also stated: “Euston is an important part of realising the benefits of HS2 and that work should continue on the section from Old Oak Common to Euston.
“Notwithstanding this, Euston is a very challenging, complex major programme and given its current status, Old Oak Common will be expected to operate as a temporary terminus for a period of time.”
Significant preparatory work has taken place at Euston in recent years.
Construction of a 4.5-mile long tunnel between Old Oak Common and Euston was expected to begin in 2024 and take two years to complete.
The Department for Transport said HS2 is facing significant inflationary pressures.
A spokesman said: “The Government remains committed to delivering HS2 to Manchester, as confirmed in the autumn statement.
“As well as supporting tens of thousands of jobs, the project will connect regions across the UK, improve capacity on our railways and provide a greener option of travel.”
Labour peer Lord Berkeley, who in 2019 was deputy chairman of a review into HS2 commissioned by then-prime minister Boris Johnson, believes the entire project should be scrapped.
He told the PA news agency: “The alternative in the news this morning is using Old Oak Common as a terminal station, which would work for half the number of trains that they want with a bit of redesign, but it wouldn’t do the lot.
“There’s not enough space for it so they couldn’t do it except maybe a shuttle service from Birmingham.
“What’s the point of building HS2 just to get to Birmingham?
“I think the whole thing should be cancelled.”
He claimed investment in the project would be “much better spent on improving the railway lines in the north, east and west, than going to London a bit quicker”.
HS2 has been dogged by criticism over its financial and environmental impact.
In October of last year, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove suggested capital investment for HS2 would be reviewed, but Chancellor Jeremy Hunt subsequently backed the project.
The target cost of Phase One between London and Birmingham was £40.3 billion at 2019 prices.
A budget of £55.7 billion for the whole of HS2 was set in 2015.