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Rishi Sunak Defended HS2 High-Speed Rail Plans Amid Criticism from Tories

Rishi Sunak Defended HS2 High-Speed Rail Plans Amid Criticism from Tories
Rishi Sunak, PM, UK

In a recent development, Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, has strongly defended the revised plans for the HS2 high-speed rail project. Contrary to claims that HS2 will be reduced to a mere “shuttle service” between London and Birmingham, Sunak argues that the changes will ultimately benefit a broader range of people by reallocating resources to bolster other transport initiatives.

In his first interview following his address at the Conservative Party conference, Sunak declined to issue an apology for scrapping the northern leg of HS2, which was originally intended to connect Birmingham to Manchester. He stated that he is willing to make difficult decisions for the greater good, emphasizing that “the facts have changed” since the project’s approval over a decade ago. Rising costs and shifts in passenger behavior due to the impact of COVID-19, according to Sunak, have severely weakened the economic justification for HS2.

I am cancelling the rest of the HS2 project.

In its place we’ll reinvest every single penny, £36 billion, into hundreds of transport projects in the North, Midlands, and across the country.

Here’s why 👇 pic.twitter.com/0GPdsqNS1E

— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) October 4, 2023

Despite facing criticism from three former Conservative Prime Ministers, Sunak remains resolute in his decision to reinvest the remaining £36 billion from the HS2 budget into other rail, road, and bus schemes. He believes this reallocation will have a more widespread and rapid positive impact on people and places.

Sunak dismisses claims that this shift in resources will harm investor confidence, asserting that he strongly disagrees with such suggestions. He also challenges the notion that substantial investment in a new rail line between Birmingham and London is a wasteful endeavor, as proponents of the scheme have previously argued for its strong business case as a “standalone project.”

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Following his address to Tory activists at the party’s annual conference in Manchester, Sunak faced questions about his leadership and his ambitions for a historic fifth term for the Conservatives in the next election. He defended his commitment to “doing politics differently” through three key announcements: delaying net-zero targets, overhauling A-levels, and planning to phase out smoking.

When asked about whether it takes a “brass neck” to claim to be a change candidate after 13 years of Conservative government, Sunak responded that politics needs to evolve, and he is determined to lead the country in a better direction, emphasizing his focus on the long term and avoiding the easy way out.

Sunak refused to align himself with the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, who recently warned of a “hurricane” of mass migration.

The Transport Secretary, Mark Harper, also faced inquiries regarding the changes to HS2. Harper could not provide a detailed breakdown of the costs of canceling contracts related to HS2’s northern leg. However, he mentioned that assumptions had been made, considering the money expected to be recovered from land sales, with the expectation that these would broadly balance out.

Harper, who previously served in David Cameron’s government, defended Sunak’s assertion of representing change in the next election and criticized decisions made by both Conservative and opposition governments over an extended period, suggesting that Sunak’s approach aims to make difficult decisions for the long-term benefit, even if they face short-term unpopularity.

Steve Rotheram, the Labour Mayor of the Liverpool city region, accused Sunak of leaving the north with an inadequate transport system despite promises of funding in what No 10 referred to as “network north.” Rotheram expressed concerns that the proposed spending would take years, if not decades, to be realized, with some of the resources intended for the north being allocated to address potholes in the south. Rotheram emphasized the need for more strategic transport planning to better serve the northern regions and voiced expectations of resistance against the recent announcements.

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