Andrew Jones has fiercely denied any suggestions that the northern arm of HS2 won’t be built, insisting that government support for the entire network “remains undiminished”.
The rail minister was speaking at the at the inaugural Transport for the North conference in Sheffield just hours before Channel 4 Dispatches aired its documentary on HS2 in which it claimed cabinet ministers were “increasingly minded to kill off” the rail line.
Alarmed by spiralling costs, a senior cabinet source tells the documentary makers that ministers are considering saving money by only building HS2 to Birmingham and are even "actively considering" axing the entire HS2 scheme.
Although published national accounts show HS2 will rise to an average cost of £4.2billion a year over the next ten years, the whistleblower claims ministers have secretly allocated up to £6bn a year - the same amount Network Rail spends on maintaining its entire network.
But speaking to various northern transport leaders, the minister was adamant about the construction of HS2 and repeated the benefits which are already being seen which include the 7,000 jobs supported by the programme and more than 2,000 businesses which have HS2 contracts.
“In case you have seen any recent newspaper stories claiming that the northern stages of HS2 might not be built – they are complete nonsense,” Jones insisted. “HS2 was conceived, developed and is now being delivered as a national railway – but in particular to improve links for the north and midlands. So, our commitment to HS2, the full network to Manchester and Leeds, remains undiminished. As the Secretary of State said recently, to do otherwise would be a betrayal of the north.”
Under the current plans, phase one of the high-speed rail link will open between London and Birmingham in December 2026 before the railway is extended to Crewe, Manchester and Leeds by 2033.
Speaking to the Dispatches documentary, HS2 chief executive Mark Thurston, insisted he will keep the scheme on budget. “What I'm very clear on and what HS2 is very clear on is that the budget for this scheme is £56bn,” he said. “That’s the task we've been set by government and that's what we work on until government advise us otherwise.”