Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has reiterated that the government could “balance the books” if it cancelled projects such as HS2, but stressed his support for the scheme.
According to a local newspaper, the Express & Star, the chancellor commented on the cost of the scheme during a visit to the site of the Interchange Station near Birmingham, which is being built as part of phase one of the project.
Hunt added that, despite the cost, the government was “proud” to be continuing with the project.
He said: “We could have balanced the books with big cuts to capital projects, but better transport connections spread wealth and opportunity – so we are proud to back HS2.”
The megaproject was spared the axe in the chancellor’s Autumn Statement earlier this month despite the government stating that it needed to find up to £40bn to fill a hole in the Treasury’s coffers.
At the time, he said: “When looking for cuts, capital is sometimes seen as an easy option, but doing so limits not our budgets, but our future. Smart countries build on their long-term commitments rather than discard them.”
Former government transport adviser Andrew Gilligan had urged Hunt to pare back the project prior to the Autumn Statement to save up to £44bn.
Gilligan, who was part of Boris Johnson’s team when he was prime minister and is a long-time opponent of the project, called for the cancellation of all parts of the high-speed rail scheme not already under construction.
He urged the chancellor to “mitigate cuts to other areas” by dramatically reducing spending on HS2.
The chancellor was joined by HS2 chief executive Mark Thurston and West Midlands mayor Andy Street for his visit to the £370m interchange station in Solihull, which is being built by Laing O’Rourke.