Conservatives attack Labour over HS2

Chancellor George Osborne
Chancellor George Osborne

George Osborne is to accuse Ed Balls of putting economic growth at risk by ‘tearing up’ plans for HS2.

The Tory Chancellor will challenge his Labour counterpart to commit to the high-speed rail link project in full.

The intervention, due during a visit to a business in Yorkshire today, comes after Mr Balls suggested that the proposals could be delayed or scaled back if he is in the Treasury after May 7.

Mr Balls told journalists at a briefing last week that there were ‘big questions’ over phase two of HS2 from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds. He said he would press ahead with building phase one from London to Birmingham, where part of the route would cut through Bucks.

However, dropping the northern part would substantially change the business case for the entire scheme.

Mr Osborne is expected to say: “Ed Balls is now openly talking about cancelling £21 billion of long-term investment in the North and not going ahead with the second phase of HS2.

“That would be a huge blow to jobs in the North and the plans to build a Northern Powerhouse.

“I am challenging the shadow chancellor to reverse his position immediately.

“After decades of the gap between the North and the South growing, it’s now starting to close.

“If that’s going to continue we must invest in projects like HS2. It would be a real blow to Yorkshire and the North West to tear up the plans, so that HS2 would never reach Manchester and Leeds.”

A spokesman for Mr Balls said: “We support HS2, but as Ed Balls said last week we shouldn’t wait for years before we get on and improve East-West transport links too.

“That’s why we want to work with David Higgins to do everything we can to maximise the benefits of high-speed rail for as much of the country as possible.

“It’s time George Osborne got on and did his job as Chancellor. On his watch the costs of HS2 have spiralled and it’s time he got a grip.

“Taxpayers deserve the best value for money and the maximum benefit from this project. That’s what Labour will deliver.”

Stop HS2 campaign manager Joe Rukin said: “Outside of the Westminster Bubble, the only people who want HS2 are a handful of councillors, vested interest groups, and those who would be able to afford to travel on it as a business expense.

“The last set of opinion polls on HS2 showed only 24% of the public want it, yet out of touch politicians are not only wedded to this white elephant, but are misguided enough to think it is a vote winner.”

“If George Osborne thinks that anyone besides those with their snouts in a tax-payer funded trough thinks HS2 is what the public want at a time of austerity, then he is sorely mistaken.

“Upgrades to the existing rail network are what are desperately needed, but their costs are spiralling out of control and are set to be cut.

“The details of the projects under threat must how be published before the election, and that let voters everywhere know how serious politicians are about infrastructure spending.”