George Osborne is not relinquishing his love for High Speed 2 anytime soon. On his welcome return to television this morning, Andrew Marr gave the Chancellor a grilling over the new line. Osborne in return defended the government’s position both on monetary and ideological grounds. With the most recent costings of £50 – 80 billion thrown around, the Chancellor added some clarity on how much he will authorise for construction of the new line:
‘We have set the budget for £42bn for the construction costs. That includes, by the way, a big contingency. As we demonstrated with the Olympic Games, we can deliver these big projects actually sometimes under budget. I think we have got a good budget, which has got a very big contingency in it, we’ve set a budget.’
Following Alistair Darling’s intervention against HS2, Fraser argued now is the ideal time for the Chancellor to drop his support for the project. Instead, Osborne reaffirmed his belief that the project is key for demonstrating the Tories care about the whole of the country:
‘I’m passionate about this project because time and again, we have this debate in our country about how we’re going to bring the gap between north and south together, about how we’re going to make sure that our growth is not just based on the City of London. High Speed 2 is about changing the economic geography of this country, making sure the north and the midlands benefit from the recovery as well.’
The only person batting this confidentially for HS2 from Labour is Andrew Adonis. Over at the New Statesman, the former transport secretary explained in response to Darling why the case for HS2 is as strong now as in 2009. Unlike the Chancellor, Adonis bases his logic not on ideological grounds but on capacity. Extending the existing lines will cost similarly huge amounts without the benefits of an entirely new high speed railway.
On this basis alone, the arguments in support of High Speed 2 are much stronger than a desire to close the north-south gap. While the Tories appear to be solid in their support for HS2 (for now), there has yet to be a firm commitment from the top of Labour. Ed Balls’ ludicrous promise to stop building when the bills reaches £50 billion (and leave the line incomplete in the middle of nowhere?) suggests the jury is still out.Tags: Andrew Marr, George Osborne, HS2