David Cameron has accused Rishi Sunak of losing a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” by making the “wrong” decision to cancel the northern leg of HS2.
The former prime minister warned cuts to the high-speed rail project will make it “much harder” to build political consensus for future long-term projects.
HS2 will run from Euston in central London to Birmingham but will no longer extend beyond the West Midlands, with Manchester among the areas missing out.
Instead, Prime Minister Mr Sunak promised to use £36 billion of savings from scrapping the HS2 line to fund a raft of other transport schemes.
Mr Cameron, writing on social media site X, formerly known as Twitter, said: “Today’s decision on HS2 is the wrong one. It will help to fuel the views of those who argue that we can no longer think or act for the long-term as a country; that we are heading in the wrong direction.
“HS2 was about investing for the long-term, bringing the country together, ensuring a more balanced economy and delivering the Northern Powerhouse. We achieved historic, cross-party support, with extensive buy-in from city and local authority leaders across the Midlands and North of England.
“Today’s announcement throws away fifteen years of cross-party consensus, sustained over six administrations, and will make it much harder to build consensus for any future long-term projects.
“All across the world, we see transformative, long-term infrastructure projects completed or underway. They show countries on the rise, building for future generations, thinking big and getting things done.
“I regret this decision and in years to come I suspect many will look back at today’s announcement and wonder how this once-in-a-generation opportunity was lost.”
Boris Johnson, another former Tory prime minister, wrote “I agree” in response to Mr Cameron’s post.
Sir John Armitt, chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission, also expressed his disappointment at the decision.
He said: “High Speed 2 was part of a long-term strategy with clear objectives to link up some of the country’s largest cities. It had been planned for almost 15 years and under construction since 2017.
“The decision to stop the legs north and east of Birmingham is deeply disappointing, leaving a major gap in the UK’s rail strategy around which a number of city regions have been basing their economic growth plans.
“A High Speed 2 route between Manchester and London via Birmingham, alongside Northern Powerhouse Rail, would have enabled increased capacity and better connectivity both north-south and east-west.
“While it is welcome that the money will be redirected into rail and other transport projects for the North and Midlands, it’s not yet clear how the collection of schemes announced today will address the gap left behind by HS2.
“It will be for Government to show it can turn the schemes into a coherent, long-term rail strategy and deliver it in a cost-effective manner, in partnership with local leaders.”
Mr Sunak had used his speech at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester to reject warnings from his predecessors who cautioned against making changes to HS2.
He said: “I say to those who backed the project in the first place, the facts have changed.
“The right thing to do when the facts change is to have the courage to change direction.”