HS2 will run to central London, says chancellor

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has tried to quash reports that HS2 Euston may be delayed or scrapped.

The chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, has tried to quash reports that HS2 trains would not run to Euston in central London due to rising construction costs. 

Major breaking news this morning (27 January) had claimed that HS2 would instead terminate permanently in the western suburbs of the capital at Old Oak Common, stopping short of central London to save money.

The Sun newspaper had claimed that HS2 officials were reportedly considering scaling back the multibillion-pound project by delaying the Euston terminus to 2038, or even scrapping the Euston project completely.

After a morning of silence, with the government “refusing to comment on speculation”, the chancellor was forced to step up and diffuse serious industry concerns by saying he did not see “any conceivable circumstances” in which the planned Euston terminus would not go ahead.

Asked by BBC News if ministers were committed to HS2 going all the way to Euston, the chancellor said: “Yes we are. And I don’t see any conceivable circumstances in which that would not end up at Euston.”

Hunt said he had “prioritised HS2 in the autumn statement” and added: “We have not got a good record in this country of delivering complex, expensive infrastructure quickly but I’m incredibly proud that, for the first time in this last decade, we have shovels in the ground building HS2 and we’re going to make it happen.”

The chancellor’s verbal confirmation came after the Department for Transport (DfT) had earlier failed to specifically deny the Euston reports, which inevitably sparked serious industry concerns. 

An initial DfT statement failed to mention central London, simply saying: “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.”

The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), who usually avoid commenting on speculation, felt compelled to call for clarification from the government.

Sir John Armitt, chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, said: “Government’s integrated rail plan in 2021 set out a realistic programme to speed up much needed connectivity benefits for the north and midlands, supporting economic growth across the country. 

“That includes delivering HS2 between central London, Birmingham and Manchester, in which significant investment has already been made. 

“While it’s vital to keep project costs under close control and review, not bringing the line into central London would have an impact on the benefits for passengers and create considerable pressures on other parts of the transport network. 

“If it’s seriously being considered, I’d need to be persuaded that any such decision was wise at this stage of the project.”

A spokesperson for the High Speed Rail Group (HSRG), said: “Cancelling Euston would be the height of folly. The construction site is already very well progressed. Works have been underway there for five years and already hundreds of millions have been spent.

“Old Oak Common station has nowhere near enough platforms to serve as the London terminus. Indeed, if it was, there would only be enough capacity to allow London-Birmingham shuttle services on HS2. In very simple terms, if Old Oak Common is the terminus, you cannot have HS2 services reaching Manchester. If you cut off Euston, you also cut off Manchester and the rest of the north.

“Finally, if the suggestion is to merely delay the opening of Euston, then it is true that you may save some money in the very short term. But by delaying works, allowing more construction inflation to creep in, you will actually add to the overall cost. It would be a total false economy.

“We need to take a long term view and build HS2 in full.”

Stephen Marcos Jones, CEO of the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE), said: “Today’s media reports, if true, that HS2 may not proceed as planned into Euston are concerning. We have already spent significant sums on the design and delivery of this transformational major project which will bring some of our major economic areas closer together, help to relieve capacity across the entire rail network, and ensure we can create a carbon friendly alternative to domestic air travel.

“Last minute changes of this nature will do nothing but add complication, delay and expense to the project where construction has already started. Scaling back its ambition further, at this stage, will just mean the economic and social benefits of HS2 for communities across the UK is further watered down.

“Our national infrastructure should not become a political football. We need to ensure that major projects can proceed confidently if they are – ultimately – to be successful.”

John Dickie, chief executive at BusinessLDN, said: “Cutting HS2 off from central London is the antithesis of talking up Britain, and would end up creating a second class rail service for passengers to and from the Midlands and north.

“HS2 needs a laser-like focus on cost control, particularly during a period of high inflation, but one sure-fire way to inflate costs is to continually meddle with the scope.

“With diggers already in the ground at Euston, ministers must stop messing about with the plans and seize this once in a generation opportunity to create a world-class, high speed, capacity boosting city centre to city centre rail line that will transform connectivity between England's major cities.”

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