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Interview: HS2 would be cheap at £65 billion, says Boris Johnson

By Pete Madeley | Politics | Published:

Boris Johnson has claimed HS2 would be “cheap” at £65 billion as he questioned the line’s spiralling budget.

Boris Johnson speaks to the Express & Star's political editor Peter Madeley

The Tory leadership favourite gave an interview to the Shropshire Star, expressing concerns about the cost of the controversial project.

He was referring to a House of Lords report claiming HS2 had ballooned to that cost – but suggested the final figure would actually be far higher.

The Government has pledged to complete the project, which passes through 45 miles of Staffordshire countryside close to the Shropshire border, to a budget of £56bn.

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But Mr Johnson, who has pledged to review HS2 if he becomes Prime Minister, scoffed at the idea, saying: “It would be cheap at £65 billion.”

He added: “I get people who argue passionately both ways on this.

“A lot of people think that HS2 is too much to spend on a railway line, while others believe it will transform the economy.

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“If you talk to West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, then he will say the promise of HS2 has helped to galvanise growth and investment in the West Midlands, so this is a very, very finely balanced argument.

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street spoke ahead of a leadership hustings in Birmingham

“We need to make sure that the profile and the cash is right and that the business case is right.”

'We can't just delay'

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Mr Johnson hinted he would prioritise a decision on HS2 should he enter Number 10, saying he would launch a review and adding: “Whatever we do we can’t just delay.

“I’m a passionate believer in big infrastructure projects, I just think it is responsible, given the anxieties that people have about the business case, for an incoming Prime Minister to kick the tyres.”

Mr Johnson also suggested he would devolve extra powers to West Midlands Combined Authority, of which Telford and Shropshire councils are associate members, saying the region “can be even better”, and backing Mayor Street’s plans to reduce people’s reliance on the gridlocked road network.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is Mr Johnson's only challenger left

He said: “The West Midlands has got so much to be proud of and so many incredible things going on, whether it is revolutionary battery technology or the automotive sector or aerospace sector. It’s an extraordinarily diverse and dynamic part of the country. It’s brilliant, I love it, but it can be even better.”

Reflecting on his time as a young reporter at Shropshire Star’s sister paper the Express & Star, he said he “went everywhere by car” when travelling in the region.

“I think Andy Street has got the right idea,” he added. “Let’s see if we can do more with Metro rail. I noticed in London that if you ease people’s commute, you are going to get higher productivity.

“You are going to get firms investing and you will change the quality of life.”

Debate ducker?

Mr Johnson has been criticised for keeping a low profile throughout his leadership campaign.

He was happy to speak to the Shropshire Star about policy but refused to speak of his private life following revelations about a late night row at a London flat involving his girlfriend.

It was revealed yesterday that a planned TV showdown between the Tory leadership candidates has been cancelled because Mr Johnson is refusing to take part.

Sky News invited Mr Johnson and Jeremy Hunt to take part in the event tonight, hosted by Kay Burley. The broadcaster has now invited both men to take part in a debate on July 1.

The head-to-head format meant it would not have been possible for Mr Johnson to be replaced by an empty podium on Sky as he was in a Channel 4 debate earlier in the leadership contest.

“Mr Hunt used a Times column to urge Mr Johnson to take part in tonight’s debate or risk being viewed as a coward.

He said: “Don’t be a coward Boris, man up and show the nation you can cope with the intense scrutiny the most difficult job in the country will involve.”

Meanwhile, Tory former chancellor Ken Clarke indicated he would be prepared to bring down a Conservative government that was heading to a no-deal Brexit.

Asked what he would do if Labour put forward a confidence motion, he said: “It depends on the circumstances at the time and what whoever is prime minister is putting forward. But I am not going to vote in favour of a government that says it is going to pursue policies which are totally incompatible with everything the Conservative Party has stood for under all those prime ministers for decades.”

Pete Madeley

By Pete Madeley
@P_Madeley_Star

Political Editor for the Express & Star. Responsible for local and national political stories, opinion, comment and analysis.

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