Labour hint at U-turn over HS2 support

Ed Balls
Ed Balls

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls questionned whether HS2 ‘was the best way to spend £50 billion’ at this afternoon’s Labour party conference.

Mr Balls added that there would be no ‘no blank cheque’ for the rail line, which would cut through Aylesbury Vale.

Shadow treasury minister Rachel Reeves added that the party would cancel HS2 ‘if we don’t think it’s good value for money and costs continue to rise’.

It signals a change in direction for Labour, which had previously joined the Conservatives and Lib Dems in cross-party support for HS2.

Indeed, it was Labour which first unveiled plans for HS2 when it was still in power in March 2010, a couple of months before it lost the general election. Back then the estimated price-tag was £33bn but under the coalition it has shot up to £47bn.

Mr Ball’s speech was met with applause by the conference audience.

His conference speech in full:

“We continue to back the idea of a north-south rail link.

“But under this government the HS2 project has been totally mismanaged and the costs have shot up to £50 billion. David Cameron and George Osborne have made clear they will go full steam ahead with this project no matter how much the costs spiral up and up.

“They seem willing to put their own pride and vanity above best value for the taxpayer.

“Maria Eagle (Labour shadow secretary of state for transport) and I are clear we will not take this irresponsible approach.

“Let us be clear – in tough times when there is less money around and a big deficit to get down there will be no blank cheque fromme as a Labour chancellor for this project or any other project because the question is not just whether a new high speed line is a good idea or a bad idea, but whether it’s the best way to spend £50bn for the future of our country.”