Boris Johnson has been warned by West Midlands mayor Andy Street not to take new Tory voters in the English region for granted by cancelling the new High Speed 2 rail scheme from London to the north.
Mr Street said the cancellation of HS2 would be a “hammer blow” to the economy of the West Midlands, from which it could take decades to recover. “Residents across the region, many of whom voted Conservative in last month’s general election, are all too aware of this.”
Mr Johnson is poised to make a decision on whether to accept the recommendations of Douglas Oakervee, a former chair of HS2, whose report will be published in the coming weeks.
Despite concerns over rising costs and delays, Mr Johnson is expected to press ahead with the project.
Mr Street was part of the panel that advised the Oakervee review, which is expected to recommend several modest ways to cut the project’s costs.
He is facing a re-election contest in May when mayoral elections will also take place in Greater Manchester, Liverpool, Tees Valley and London.
The former managing director of John Lewis said he had always believed that the new rail line was “mission critical” to the region he represents. “Since reviewing all the evidence my position has only hardened — HS2 could make or break the future of the West Midlands.”
The cost estimate for HS2 has ballooned in recent years, with the price tag jumping by nearly £30bn last summer. At the same time the government admitted that the second phase — from Birmingham to Leeds and Manchester — would come in up to seven years late, with a completion date of up to 2040. The first phase, from London to Birmingham, is currently scheduled to finish in 2031, five years late.
Yet Mr Street said that the project would still bring major economic benefits to the Midlands and northern England.
“The prime minister helped build his 80-seat majority in part thanks to a huge swath of new voters in the West Midlands,” he said. “They are now expecting him to deliver on his promise to rebalance the economy and power up our region. The first clear and decisive step that can be taken to fulfil that promise is to back HS2.”
The project would create tens of thousands of new jobs in the West Midlands as well as tens of thousands of new homes, Mr Street said.
Mr Oakervee’s report is expected to suggest reducing the number of hourly trains from a maximum of 18 to 14 and seeking a greater contribution from private developers towards the cost of building stations.
However, he has rejected the idea of cutting back the eastern leg of the £88bn project’s second phase, from Birmingham to Leeds, according to a leak of an early draft before Christmas. He is also thought to have ruled out the idea of ending the line at Old Oak Common in west London instead of Euston in the heart of the capital.
Mr Street admitted that the government had to get to grips with the costs and timeline on the project, but said these issues could be “rectified”.
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