Party would not be willing to commit to such massive spending in an election year, and could focus on delivering Northern Powerhouse Rail instead
The Prime Minister has sparked a bitter backlash from Tory grandees, business leaders and regional politicians after he refused to guarantee that HS2 will run beyond Birmingham to Manchester or terminate in central London.
But senior Labour sources have said that their hands would be tied if Mr Sunak pushes on with any proposals to ditch the high speed line beyond Birmingham, and the party would be forced to focus on delivering Northern Powerhouse Rail in full. This would be links from Liverpool to Hull and then to Newcastle and York.
“I suspect our thinking will be if we don’t commit fully to it [HS2], then we will commit to the east and west line, which does mean building part of HS2 around Manchester Airport to the city centre,” a senior Labour source told i.
“If they [the Conservatives] say they are going to cut it, then they’ll just say where will we find the £140bn – or whatever it will cost – to build it.
“We can’t afford that six months before an election. As much as I want this project, I also want a Labour government. There’s lots of things we can say that are positive about east-west connectivity – jobs, investment and apprenticeships,” the source added.
Such a move would be likely to be supported by the increasingly powerful Manchester Metro Mayor, Andy Burnham, the insider said, as it would deliver on his central demand of improved transport for the North.
It would be highly controversial, however, and rail industry insiders have raised significant doubts over the viability of building NPR without delivering the phase 2 leg of HS2.
According to the rail industry, 40 per cent of the track laid as part of phase 2b, which runs from Crewe to Manchester, will be used by NPR, which sources said would include some of the most costly and technical aspects of delivering the east to west line via south Manchester.
Any reworking of the scheme would likely delay the NPR for several years, it was claimed.
Labour has yet to say what its official position is on HS2, stating that it wants to see the train line delivered but that it has to see the finances.
Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh has written to the Prime Minister raising concerns that Mr Sunak has become “alarmed” by the rising cost of HS2 given his previous roles as chancellor and chief secretary to the Treasury.
“It is under your direct watch that the cost of HS2 has reportedly almost trebled,” Ms Haigh writes. “The National Audit Office has found that HS2 “cost increases may not have been necessary” if risks had been “recognised and managed earlier” by the Government.
“And, as chancellor, you agreed revised funding for Phase One of: ‘£44.6 billion, including £5.6 billion of contingency to be held by HS2 Ltd and £4.3 billion of other contingency to be held by government’.”
She adds: “Please can you confirm that you personally, as chancellor, approved the revised funding on the basis of an uncosted programme?”