Tory conference latest: HS2 row dominates agenda as No10 insists ‘no final decision made’

Hunt previously questioned why HS2 cost so much to build

Manchester, UK. 02nd Oct, 2023. Jeremy Hunt Chancellor of the Exchequer addresses the main hall on the second day of the Conservative Conference. Manchester UK. Credit: GaryRobertsphotography/Alamy Live News
Manchester, UK. 02nd Oct, 2023. Jeremy Hunt Chancellor of the Exchequer addresses the main hall on the second day of the Conservative Conference. Manchester UK. Credit: GaryRobertsphotography/Alamy Live News (GaryRobertsphotography)

Monday's Conservative Party Conference was overshadowed by news that the government may be scrapping the Manchester leg of the high-speed railway - the news coming as the Tories held their convention in the city.

Shortly before the chancellor Jeremy Hunt was due to take the stage, ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston reported that the Manchester leg of the high-speed project would not be going ahead.

However Downing Street later insisted that the reports were incorrect, with a spokesperson commenting: "No final decisions have been taken on Phase 2 of HS2."

Earlier, Hunt had been asked about HS2 and questioned why delivering HS2 is costing vastly more than similar projects in Europe.

He told LBC radio: “I need to have an answer why it costs 10 times more to build high speed rail in this country than it does across the Channel in France.

“Some of that spend you’ve been talking about (on public relation costs) is totally unacceptable.”

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    Sunak has proposed raising the smoking age by one year, every year, meaning a 14-year-old today will never legally be sold a cigarette.

    The prime minister said: “I propose that in future we raise the smoking age by one year, every year. That means a 14-year-old today will never legally be sold a cigarette, and that they and their generation can grow up smoke-free.

    “We know this works. When we raised the smoking age to 18, smoking prevalence dropped by 30% in that age group.”

    Referring to smoking as the single biggest cause of preventable death in the UK, he added: “We have a chance to cut cancer deaths by a quarter, significantly ease those pressures, and protect our children, and we should take it.

    Sunak said there would be a Commons vote on the change in the law in the future, but said it would be a free vote, describing it as a “matter of conscience”.

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    Cameron tweets Sunak has made 'wrong' decision on HS2

    Former Conservative prime minister David Cameron, writing on X, 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 15 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 under way. 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.”

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    HS2 to Manchester axed in favour of 'Network North' - as former PM Cameron calls decision 'wrong'

    Reports the planned high speed rail line would end in Birmingham - rather than continuing up to Manchester - have been circling for weeks. Sunak defended the move by promising to spend the billions of cash savings on hundreds of other transport schemes across the country instead.

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    What does scaling back of HS2 mean for travellers?

    ‘Network North’ and a range of piecemeal road and rail projects will replace the western leg of the high-speed rail line

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    Sunak jokes that Nicola Sturgeon faces prison as he takes aim at ‘forces of separatism’

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    Explainer-What's happening to HS2, Britain's costly high-speed railway?

    Britain is cancelling the construction of a key section of the costly HS2 high-speed railway, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Wednesday, angering people and businesses in northern England, a region that would have benefited from the project.

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    Work on first HS2 route will continue 'at pace'

    The Prime Minister’s press secretary said that some of the moves on HS2 will require legislative changes, but that it would not “hold up significant elements of work”.

    She said: “Parliament has already approved the route between Euston and Birmingham, so work on that route can continue at pace. We do not need legislation to stop work on phases 2a and 2b.”

    Number 10 said the funding would be spent on the transport projects in the same 2029-40 period.

The conference, which runs from 1-4 October at the Manchester Central Convention Complex, will also see speeches today from Kemi Badenoch, Therese Coffey and Claire Coutinho, while Robert Jenrick will take part in an immigration event and divisive names Liz Truss, Jacob Rees Mogg and Priti Patel will address 'The Great British Growth Rally'.