Reprieve for HS2, East West Rail and NPR in ‘austerity’ budget

The Chancellor has effectively dismissed calls for HS2 to be further cut back or even cancelled in his Autumn Statement.

Jeremy Hunt told the Commons that the funding would be available to continue building HS2 to Manchester, East West Rail and the ‘core’ elements of Northern Powerhouse Rail.

Transport campaigners have pointed out that he could have saved £16 billion by abandoning several major road schemes.

Mr Hunt said: ‘I am not cutting a penny from our capital budgets in the next two years and maintaining them at that level in cash terms for the following three years.

‘This means that although we are not growing our capital budget as planned, it will still increase from £63 billion four years ago to £114 billion next year and £115 billion the year after – and remain at that level. Smart countries build on their long-term commitments rather than discard them.

‘So today I confirm that because of this decision, alongside Sizewell C, we will deliver the core Northern Powerhouse Rail. HS2 to Manchester. East West Rail. The new hospitals programme. And gigabit broadband rollout. All these and more will be funded as promised.’

The Campaign for Better Transport welcomed a further announcement that Vehicle Excise Duty will be charged on electric vehicles from 2025, and also gave a cautious welcome to the news about transport upgrades.

Norman Baker from the CBT said: ‘We welcome the Government’s renewed commitment to East West Rail, core Northern Powerhouse Rail, and High Speed 2, which will be vital to connecting communities and modernising our sustainable transport network, but we are disappointed that Bradford is to miss out from getting a high-speed stop. The Government could have filled much of the Budget black hole by cancelling a small number of highly damaging road building schemes – it is regrettable that it didn’t take the chance to do this.’

According to Transport Action Network, cancelling the Lower Thames Crossing, A303 Stonehenge, A66 Northern Transpennine, A12 Chelmsford to A120 widening and A428 Black Cat to Caxton Gibbet schemes would save £16 billion.

Railway Industry Association chief executive Darren Caplan said: ‘Last month we wrote an open letter to Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, setting out how rail is not just essential for UK connectivity and levelling-up, but that it is also an important national industry which plays a major role in boosting economic growth in other sectors too. Given this, we said it is essential to push on with rail projects, even given the current difficult economic circumstances.

‘On the face of it, it is therefore welcome that the Chancellor has confirmed that three key rail projects will be built. This isn’t just the right thing to do when it comes to connectivity, but is also in the long-term economic interests of the country and the efforts to decarbonise.

‘Rail suppliers are very clear that clarity and certainty are essential, and so whilst we welcome the government’s announcement we urge the government to simply deliver what it says it is going to deliver. The industry still needs clarity on the details, including on all elements of HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, and sight of the Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline, which still hasn’t been updated in over three years.

‘It is concerning that capital budgets will seemingly not rise as planned after 2024. RIA will of course monitor to see that the rail renewals budget is maintained too, to ensure there is no deterioration in the network. To deliver both transformational major projects for the future and to protect today’s railway, the industry needs the government to commit to a long-term investment package beyond 2024.’ 


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