The government has been accused of “an outrageous attempt to avoid scrutiny” after slipping out an announcement to to delay part of the HS2 rail project.
Soaring costs mean ministers are to put the construction of the Birmingham to Crewe leg on hold for two years, threatening to deliver a blow to the “levelling up” agenda.
But the update was delivered to MPs via a written ministerial statement – meaning there was no chance to question the decision.
The statement was tabled at around 5pm on Thursday just as MPs were set to return to their constituencies for the weekend.
In the Commons, Labour MP Sarah Owen called a point of order objecting to the way news was snuck out.
She said: “The government has just announced huge delays to HS2 and other road and active travel projects via a written ministerial statement – at nearly 5 o’clock on Thursday afternoon.
“This is an outrageous attempt to avoid scrutiny for what is a very significant announcement, which should have been made to this House first. Tens of thousands of jobs and billions of pounds of growth are dependent on this project.
“The secretary of state should have had the decency to come to this house and explain to members why they are doing this.”
Government comms at its worst
HS2 is being delayed by years - from language in WMS it sounds open-ended - but there's no press release (yet), no minister in the Commons, no debate
Just an abstract, vaguely worded WMS for something that will affect millions of people
— Steven Swinford (@Steven_Swinford) March 9, 2023
Transport secretary Mark Harper, in the statement, also set out delays for services running to Euston in central London, as he instead focuses on initial services between Old Oak Common in the capital’s western suburbs.
The high-speed line was due for extension between Birmingham and Crewe between 2030 and 2034 to help boost transport in the north of England.
But Harper said he was instead “prioritising” the initial services between Old Oak Common in London and Birmingham Curzon Street, as he also announced setbacks to key road projects.
Harper insisted that the Government is “committed” to delivering the high-speed rail link between Birmingham and Crewe.
Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said the North is “yet again being asked to pay the price for staggering Conservative failure”.
“Tens of thousands of jobs and billions in economic growth are dependent on this project,” the Labour MP said.
“This is the biggest project in Europe and delays pile costs up in the long-run – ministers now need to come clean on precisely how much their indecision will cost taxpayers and the North.”