Prime Minister prepared for criticism amidst "big bold decisions" on HS2

The Prime Minister has hinted he is prepared to be criticised for “big, bold decisions” as speculation grows that the Northern leg of HS2 will be scrapped.

Rishi Sunak has told journalists he will "not be forced into a premature decision" on the high speed rail line and in an interview with Robert Peston for ITV News, acknowledged the “speculation” on HS2, but added he “wanted to reassure people” he would approach this “the way I approach everything – thoughtfully responsibly and carefully – across the detail – to make the right long term decision for the country”.

“These are projects that cost everyone watching, taxpayers, tens of billions of pounds,” he said.

“It’s right that we’re careful about that – people would expect that from me.

“People have seen me do this job for the last year, they’ve seen me as Chancellor, I think most people know that I’m across the detail of things, I do things properly and carefully, responsibly and sensibly – that’s how I approach things.

“But I’m also willing to do things that are bold, that are different as you saw on net zero – even when people were criticising me for what I was doing, I believe I was doing what was right for the country.”

Construction industry leaders raised serious concerns following the Prime Minister’s announcement on the country’s net zero ambitions last month. 

Sunak said the government was now taking a more “pragmatic” and “realistic” path to reach net zero by 2050, as he delayed the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by five years to 2035, scrapped new policies forcing landlords to upgrade the energy efficiency of their properties and delayed the ban on installing oil and LPG boilers, and new coal heating, for off-gas-grid homes to 2035, instead of phasing them out from 2026.

He also set an exemption to the phase-out of fossil fuel boilers, including gas, in 2035, so that households who will most struggle to make the switch to heat pumps or other low-carbon alternatives won’t have to do so.

In addition, he raised the Boiler Upgrade Grant by 50% to £7,500, to help households who want to replace their gas boilers with a low-carbon alternative like a heat pump.

“I’m prepared to make big bold decisions,” he told Peston.

“You saw that on net zero – and of course I was careful – I went through it – but that was a big decision that I got criticism for and when you make big decisions, of course there are people who are going to criticise you.

“There are people who are ideological about net zero. They think that at any cost to families, we should get there overnight. I don’t think that’s right. 

“So I was prepared to take that on, say that was wrong and set out a new course.”

The course HS2 is set to take is likely to be revealed in the coming days as the Conservative Party Conference continues.

Last week, the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) urged the Government to honour its previous promises on HS2.

The Association's 400-plus members, for whom the lingering doubts over the future of HS2 have raised serious concerns, said the economic benefits of the project would be diminished if Northern leg of the scheme is delayed or cancelled.

In an open letter to the Government, ACE said: "HS2 was meant to be transformative for the UK, driving economic growth, job creation and regional development.

"But the uncomfortable uncertainty that now surrounds it, seriously threatens the economic benefits it was intended to bring."



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