“Will you commit to cancelling HS2?” – Tory Leadership campaign

We had expected to have to spend an age trailing through the Conservative leadership candidates’ social media feeds and speeches to be able to tell you their views on HS2.  But the Conservative Home website saved us a massive undertaking, by asking each candidate for their views on a range of issues, including the question “Will you commit to cancelling HS2?”.

Their answers are below – but if HS2 is the most important criteria, Esther McVey stands out with a clear commitment to cancel it.

Committed to cancelling HS2

“Urgent Review”

Review

Build HS2

Their answers in detail:

Cancel It

Esther McVey

Yes!

If we are going to spend billions on our transport network, HS2 is the worst option. After all, official estimates in 2015 put the cost at a whopping £55.7 billion. With experts predicting costs may double, there’s a danger HS2 simply comes to a grinding halt and sucks up all the investment. The work may destroy swathes of our beautiful countryside, without ever reaching the areas where investment is so badly needed.

Plenty of organisations have already brought forward serious proposals for finding more effective ways of using these to better connect our country. A recent report from the TaxPayers’ Alliance proposed 28 local and national infrastructure projects which could be funded if HS2 was scrapped: everything from roads to rail, bridges to bicycles, from the Chilterns to Cumbria, Cheshire and Cornwall.
What the vast majority of people want are reliable local links which improve their daily lives: suburb to city, home to work, and a link to connect the major cities across the country.

“Urgent Review”

Andrea Leadsom

I would commit to an urgent review into whether HS2 offers value for taxpayers’ money. I have always had reservations about whether this was the way right way to unlock capacity & grow our economy, particularly when it will take longer to commute between neighbouring towns in the north of England (on rolling stock which is over 30 years old) than it will to travel from the Midlands to London. Given a substantial amount of money has been spent on HS2 already, it is right we review this urgently and take a decision based on the facts. If HS2 doesn’t go ahead, the money would be spent on improving rail and road connections in the North of England, as well as on ‘get to school/work’ schemes around the UK.

Rory Stewart

Major infrastructure projects are crucial to the economic well-being of the country and to opening up growth, jobs and opportunity for all regions of the UK. At the same time, infrastructure must be focused on the needs of individuals and communities, and not just be dreamt up by planners in London. I believe we need to revisit the question of how we assess and compensate the social and environmental impacts associated with large development projects, so that a fair view of the impacts is considered alongside the economic benefits. On HS2 and HS3, I would commission a rapid review from independent experts to draw on views in government and the regions, to ensure that costs are controlled and that the projects work for the whole country. My personal instinct is that we should prioritise infrastructure investment in the North of England – and in particular the route across the Pennines – linking Leeds and Manchester for example, and Newcastle and Carlisle. But above all what matters is getting things right, not building something we regret.

Boris Johnson

HS2 has a weak business case. Costs are spiralling vertiginously. The company is deeply disorganised in its relations with stakeholders and residents. But as a longstanding student of UK infrastructure and its defects, I hesitate before simply chopping a giant national project. We need a proper and urgent review to test whether the money could be spent differently – and in particular whether we should prioritise HS3/ Northern Powerhouse rail.

Review

Michael Gove

I wouldn’t rush to a decision. But it must be reviewed to see if we’re getting proper value for money and to ensure the North benefits first. We need to improve rail capacity and connectivity, especially in the North of England but there are tough questions we need to ask about routes and where we frontload investment. Lord Forsyth did a very thorough review of HS2, which has some important messages. He recommended that we ‘should press the pause button’ while we do a ‘new appraisal’. I also believe we need to focus on improving transport links at regional and subregional level and ensure we have an effective new level of connectivity in the North linking Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds with so-called Northern Powerhouse Rail, HS3.

Dominic Raab

I would review the cost effectiveness of HS2 as part of the Spending Review, with a view to: reducing the costs of the project over the longer term; maximising the value for money in terms of the productivity gains; focusing on increasing the capacity of the link between London, Birmingham and Northern destinations; and re-focusing on the scope to promote East-West connectivity in the North.

Sam Gyimah

Bridging the economic divide between London and the rest of the country is long overdue. We need new and creative ways of funding the big infrastructure that is needed to make this happen.

This is what happens in Hong Kong and Japan; we can do that here, as well as reviewing HS2 and other such projects to ensure they offer value for money to the taxpayer.

Build HS2

Sajid Javid

Successive governments have dodged difficult decisions when it comes to our national infrastructure. The HS2 project will deliver huge economic benefits across multiple regions and help rebalance our economy. Business groups have been vocal in their support for it.

Some have suggested we should be putting the money into improving existing rail connections instead, but I disagree – I think we can do both. In fact, I think the two go hand in hand. A key part of the proposals for Northern Powerhouse Rail, for example, is providing links between the new HS2 hubs and other cities across the North, so more people can benefit from faster journey times and greater rail capacity.

Too often, however, these major projects run way over budget and behind schedule. Every single project should be able to demonstrate value for money – apart from anything else, that’s the best way to get the public on board.

Jeremy Hunt

No. If we are to be the best place in the world to do business we need to have world class infrastructure, and HS2 is a key part of it. We also know that the most prosperous economies are those where wealth is spread across the country. To cancel a priority investment in regional growth would put back this cause.

Mark Harper

No. Some people want to scrap it, but if that was to happen, our existing rail infrastructure would still need to have a massive capacity upgrade that would cause serious day-to-day disruption for commuters across the country.

It is clear if you speak to people outside the M25 that they are keen for us to improve our infrastructure so that growth is more evenly distributed across the country – those of you who have been to Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham can see for yourselves the growth opportunities that HS2 investment has offered. I want that to continue to be the case in Birmingham and beyond.

If we are serious about growing the economy outside London and the South, HS2 is vital to achieving that.

Matt Hancock

As a northerner born and bred in Chester, I believe HS2 is a vital project that will increase our rail capacity and provide better links between the North and South of England. I know that many people are not happy about this project. But if we do not deliver on this commitment, it would also send a terrible message to the North that the Conservative Party does not care about its future.

Countries that invest in infrastructure succeed so we need to invest more in transport, East and West, as well as, not instead of HS2.

However, we also have two requests to make to each of them, whether they want a review or think they might go ahead with HS2:

  • Pause all enabling works until Notice to Proceed is given due to the massive environmental damage that they are causing
  • Ensure that everyone who have already lost their homes and businesses to HS2 is paid for their property, along with the associated fees and any compensation due.

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