In a remarkable admission, Chris Grayling speaking to rail industry leaders has admitted that the second phase northern extension of HS2 could possibly not be constructed if it does not receive the necessary support.
In a report published by the Sunday Telegraph, on Grayling addressing a rail industry conference in London, the transport secretary acknowledged the government's battle to "make the case" for the project, despite previous pledges by the government to bring the vital rail project to northern towns and cities.
But the latest comments will do only add to the arguments of HS2 sceptics who are increasingly concerned about the likelihood of the £56bn second phase (Birmingham to Leeds) being built.
While the first phase from London to Birmingham has been approved and funded, plans to extend the line further north are still very much in the beginning stages and nothing much more known than a proposed route.
Speaking to industry leaders, Grayling is reported to have said: “This industry has got to help make the case for HS2. We have got to continue making that case for it. It will be a fantastic railway, one of the best in Europe but it still needs support if it is to definitely go to Leeds and connect to the Northern Powerhouse Rail.”
Plans to extend the HS2 line were announced back in 2016 in which the government said that on the western route, HS2 trains are scheduled to go north from Crewe to Manchester Airport and continue from Manchester Airport on to Manchester city centre, where a new HS2 station will be built next to Manchester Piccadilly. There will also be a connection to Liverpool and to the existing West Coast main line.
On the eastern leg, HS2 will continue from the West Midlands to Toton in the East Midlands, where a new HS2 station will be built to serve Nottingham, Derby and the wider region. From there it will continue north from the East Midlands to South Yorkshire.
At the same conference, HS2 chairman Sir Terry Morgan, told the audience that the northern part of the scheme was vital for the overall business case.
'I absolutely do think that we still have a selling case to do for HS2,” Morgan said. “The truth is that without the northern section of HS2, there isn't a business case for the line at all. You wouldn't do HS2 on the basis of Phase 1 on its own. HS2 definitely needs Phase 2, otherwise it does not work. The North and the Midlands have got to fight for the case of HS2. We can always get more support from businesses.”
Liberal Democrats have responded to the concession by claiming HS2 could be “another line chalked on Grayling’s CV of failure”. Responding to the comments, Liberal Democrat transport spokesperson Baroness Randerson said: “If HS2 turns out to be just a way of making Birmingham a suburb of London because it can be reached in 30 minutes, it will have fundamentally distorted the purpose of the project. This Conservative government are dragging prosperity from the north rather than increasing it and the Liberal Democrats demand better.”
Since the story broke, the Department for Transport has dismissed it as “absolute nonsense” and said “statements were taken out of context”.