Fresh doubts have emerged over the Government’s commitment to levelling up after a leaked document showed planned delays to its flagship infrastructure project, HS2, will increase costs and lead to job losses.
A Department for Transport impact assessment obtained by Labour has revealed warnings from senior officials that last week’s decision to delay construction of the high speed line could also lead to construction firms going bust.
The document, which was drafted by senior civil servants within the DfT, admits there “will be some impacts on jobs” as a result of the delays, adding “additional costs will be created by deferring expenditure on the programme”.
The briefing, which comes in the form of questions and answers, also warns that the Government could face compensation claims from companies that go under as a result of the action, stating it will “work through the contractual consequences of these announcements”.
Labour said the document “blows apart” claims made by Transport Secretary Mark Harper that extending HS2’s timetable will save money.
Mr Harper last week announced that HS2’s timetable would be revised as a cost-saving measure, with the Birmingham to Crewe leg delayed by two years.
Plans to extend the line to London’s Euston station and to Manchester also face delays, with Mr Harper “prioritising” the initial services between Old Oak Common in west London’s suburbs and Birmingham Curzon Street.
The leaked document reveals that HS2 trains will continue to terminate at Old Oak Common on the outskirts of London until 2041, with trains not running to Manchester until the same period.
Revealing the leak in the Commons, Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh said the “absurd plan will hit jobs, hurt growth, and cost taxpayers even more”.
She added: “Is there anything more emblematic of this failed Government than their flagship levelling up project that neither makes it to the North or to central London?”
Senior Tories demanded ministers reveal whether there would be further delays to the project.
Iain Stewart, Conservative chair of the Commons transport committee, asked for assurances that there would be no more delays to HS2.
He added: “When can we expect to see this further detail on HS2 east, on the integrated rail plan and on the Leeds route options? The industry and the public require, they demand, certainty on this.”
Tory backbenchers were also critical of the delay, with Conservative MP Jack Brereton claiming the scheme would mean a “huge amount of pain for little to no gain” for his constituents.
He added: “I’m extremely concerned- and many of the people I’ve heard from are extremely concerned – that phase 2 particularly is actually going to reduce capacity of some of those existing services.”
Tory former minister Alec Shelbrooke cast doubt on the future of northward extensions to HS2, including Leeds, telling the Commons: “Mrs Miggins in the Dog and Duck knows it’s not going to happen.”
Rail minister Huw Merriman said the Government did not comment on leaked documents but added the Government is taking an “entirely responsible approach”.