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Tory Conference: ‘We need to press ahead with HS2,’ says Grayling

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Transport secretary Chris Grayling has told the Conservative Party Conference that the government must build High Speed 2, as well as discussing airport expansion and the Garden Bridge

Speaking at the ICC in Birmingham yesterday (3 October), Grayling said the planned railway would improve services in the Midlands and free-up the amount of cargo transported on roads.

Grayling said that better services were needed to cities such as Milton Keynes and Northampton, and that the government wanted more freight to be carried by train.

‘How we do that?’ he said. ‘We build a new railway line that links our major cities, so we’ve got more space for freight trains and more space for commuter trains on our other busiest lines.

‘And that, ladies and gentlemen, nothing more, nothing less, is the reason we need to press ahead with HS2.’

Grayling claimed that the ‘whole country will benefit’ from the high-speed railway, saying it would provide more space for commuters on other lines and speed up journey times for motorists as freight loads were carried by train instead.

He added: ‘It’s about a new, 21st-century, Elizabethan era for our railways, not going back to the Victorian one.’

The minister’s bullish attitude comes after a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) in June described the £55.7 billion pound project as ‘too ambitious’ and warned it could be delayed by up to a year.

The report also revealed that the project was facing cost pressures, with estimates for the £27.4 billion first phase currently exceeding available funding by £204 million, while phase two was exceeding available funding by £7 billion.

Last month, a public accounts committee report (PAC) looking into the planning and delivery of HS2 said there was still ‘considerable uncertainty’ about its delivery, while cost estimates for phase two of the line were ‘volatile’ and needed firming up.

MPs behind the report urged the government to set out a ‘realistic timetable’ for the construction of HS2 and clarify details about the costs of phase two. 

In addition, the chief of the NAO has said that the UK’s decision to leave the EU leaves a question mark over public projects like Hinkley Point C, the South East airport expansion and HS2.

In his speech, Grayling also announced that a £12 million boost would be given to Midlands Connect, to help it improve the region’s transport links.

As well as HS2, Grayling discussed the pressing issue of airport expansion, saying that a new runway in the South East would ‘send a signal to the world that Britain is open for business’.

The government is expected to make a decision later this month on the airport expansion.

It is understood that Theresa May will choose from three options: a third Heathrow runway, an extension of Heathrow’s northern runway; or a second runway at Gatwick.

In July 2015, the Davies’ Airports Commission recommended a third runway be built at Heathrow.

Grayling also discussed the Garden Bridge project, saying that he wished it well but that no more public money would be spent on it.

‘The fact that the public sector, both at the London level and at national level have put funds into this, clearly indicates that the government’s view and the mayor’s view has been that we wish this project well,’ he said.

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