Andrea Leadsom, the new Treasury minister, urges David Cameron to rethink the HS2 rail project, saying £50 billion investment is poor value for money.
David Cameron’s new Treasury minister has called for a “dramatic rethink” of the High Speed 2 rail project.
Andrea Leadsom has warned that the £50 billion scheme does not represent value for taxpayers’ money. The economic case for the rail line was “questionable and rapidly deteriorating”, she said, promising to “fight against” the project.
Before she became a minister she sent a series of letters to rail executives, saying that the line would cause severe and irreversible damage to wildlife habitats, heritage sites and areas of natural beauty along the route.
Her warnings over the economic justification for the project will be particularly damaging, coming from a Treasury minister widely respected for her economic expertise.
George Osborne, Mrs Leadsom’s immediate boss, has said he is a “passionate” supporter of HS2, declaring it “essential to the future of this country”.
The strength of Mrs Leadsom’s concerns emerged after The Telegraph analysed the public statements of six Tory ministers whose constituencies are most severely affected by the scheme. Mrs Leadsom’s comments were among the most vehement. They were published on her constituency website before she became Economic Secretary to the Treasury, and remained there until Friday night when the site appeared to be temporarily unavailable.
The Telegraph inquiry comes ahead of a crucial Commons vote on the plans next week.
The rail line is the Government’s flagship transport infrastructure project to connect London to Manchester and Leeds, via Birmingham. The first phase, from London to Birmingham, is due to open in 2026.
On March 27, less than two weeks before she was appointed to the Treasury, she described a “very disappointing” meeting with the chairman of HS2 Ltd, Sir David Higgins. She accused him of showing “insufficient consideration” for the impact of the scheme on the environment. “My fight against HS2 goes on,” she wrote. The proposed rail line runs directly through Mrs Leadsom’s South Northamptonshire constituency.
Several other government ministers, whose constituencies are also affected by the proposed route, are expected to be absent from the debate and vote in Parliament, despite what is likely to be a Government three-line whip.
Under the rules of “collective responsibility” ministers must not oppose government legislation, even if they disagree with it. Ministers are normally required to resign if they plan to vote against a major Bill, such as the High Speed Rail (London to West Midlands) Bill.
Michael Fabricant was sacked as the Conservative Party’s vice-chairman for opposing HS2 earlier this month.
Mrs Leadsom defied a three-line whip last summer to vote against the “paving Bill” for HS2. Her spokesman would not say how she planned to vote on the main Bill on Monday or whether she would even attend the debate.
The MP said in a statement that she expected the Bill to pass through the Commons “with a large majority”.
Five other Conservative ministers are also under pressure from their constituencies to oppose HS2. But none would say whether they would vote.
David Lidington, the minister for Europe, is to attend a lecture in Estonia.
Nick Hurd, the Cabinet Office minister, Jeremy Wright, the Justice Minister and Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, were unable to say if they would be in the Commons.
David Gauke, another Treasury minister whose constituency is affected, was unable to be contacted, but he has expressed his support for HS2.