Sunak fails to commit to eastern HS2 leg days before autumn Budget

UK

Rishi Sunak has refused to be drawn on the future of the eastern leg of HS2 just three days before announcing his spending plans in the autumn Budget later this week.

Deflecting a question on the matter on Sky’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday, the chancellor also failed to confirm whether a new Northern Powerhouse Rail link from Leeds to Manchester via Bradford would be built.

An announcement on the matter will be made “shortly”, Mr Sunak said.

It came as the chancellor also admitted that £4.2bn of the £7bn worth of announcements in the Budget related to transport for the next five years had already been allocated – with the government adding a further £1.5bn as a “top up”.

“It’s a great example of levelling up in practice, and it’s ultimately just going to create growth in all of those places,” Mr Sunak said of the government’s plans.

Over the weekend, the chancellor announced a series of spending pledges ahead of the autumn Budget on Wednesday, which include £5bn for health research and innovation and £3bn for education.

The Treasury is promising the cash for transport will boost productivity through train and station upgrades and the expansion of tram networks in cities outside of London.

More on Budget 2021

But Mr Sunak has been accused of putting “the good news before the bad news” following predictions the chancellor will announce the scrapping of the eastern leg of HS2 in his Budget.

Speaking to Sky News earlier this week, former Labour transport secretary Lord Adonis – who went on to lead the UK National Infrastructure Commission under David Cameron and Theresa May – forecast that Mr Sunak’s announcement of local transport funding would come before the scrapping of the eastern leg of HS2 between Birmingham and Leeds.

Meanwhile Labour’s shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon told Sky News: “If ministers were serious about ensuring towns and cities of the North are better connected, they’d be delivering to HS2 to Leeds and Northern Powerhouse Rail.”

Speaking to Sky News on Sunday, Mr Sunak reiterated that he will do “whatever it takes” to support families with the cost of living.

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