Michael Gove has refused to guarantee that HS2 will run to its planned central London terminus at Euston.
The Levelling-Up Secretary said he did not know where the final London destination would be when quizzed on where the upgraded rail route could end in the UK’s capital. Gove admitted there was a “debate” about whether it should be Euston or Old Oak Common, a west London suburb.
It comes after the government earlier this month announced it will prioritise having initial HS2 services running by 2033 between Old Oak Common and Birmingham Curzon Street as part of measures designed to cut costs.
It means services will not stop in Euston in central London for years to come, with passengers instead expected to travel for half an hour on the Elizabeth Line.
But Gove on Sunday said he could not confirm that the tracks linking Old Oak Common and Euston station would ever be built. Speaking on Channel 4’s The Andrew Neil Show, he said: “There is a debate about whether or not it should be Old Oak Common or Euston.
“Old Oak Common is going to be a major area for regeneration but we want to make sure as many people as possible can benefit not just from the additional rail infrastructure but also from the regeneration that HS2 can bring. So the Old Oak Common area is a part of north-west London that requires levelling-up.”
Pressed on whether HS2 would go to Euston, he replied: “I don’t know what the final decision will be about where the terminus will be.”
Reports first surfaced in January that the Euston element of the high-speed line might never be completed despite preparatory works having started around the major station, but Chancellor Jeremy Hunt was quick to attempt to quash such rumours saying he did not see “any conceivable circumstances” in which HS2 would not run to Euston.
Asked by BBC News after his Bloomberg speech whether ministers were committed to HS2 going “all the way to Euston”, Hunt said: “Yes we are. And I don’t see any conceivable circumstances in which that would not end up at Euston. And indeed I prioritised HS2 in the autumn statement.
“We have not got a good record in this country of delivering complex, expensive infrastructure quickly, but I’m incredibly proud that, for the first time in this last decade, under a Conservative government, we have shovels in the ground building HS2 and we’re going to make it happen.”
When asked about the report earlier, a Department for Transport (DfT) spokesman said: “The government remains committed to delivering HS2 to Manchester, as confirmed in the autumn statement.
“As well as supporting tens of thousands of jobs, the project will connect regions across the UK, improve capacity on our railways and provide a greener option of travel.”
A “full business case” for HS2 published by the DfT in April 2020 stated that the target timeframe for services launching between Old Oak Common and Birmingham was 2029-2033, whereas for trains between Euston and north-west England the range was 2031-2036.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper’s announcement earlier this month on prioritising Old Oak Common to Birmingham services was interpreted as meaning that route may not now enter central London until the 2040s. But Gove’s remarks will cast doubt on whether the Euston connection will ever be given the green signal.
HS2’s website still features plans for the high speed trains to travel to Euston and says a new station there will have 10 450m platforms. It also says the station will be used by up to 17 high-speed trains per hour at "peak operation".
The HS2 project has been dogged by criticism over its financial and environmental impact. In October of last year, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove suggested capital investment for HS2 would be reviewed, but Chancellor Jeremy Hunt subsequently backed the project.
The target cost of Phase One between London and Birmingham was £40.3 billion at 2019 prices. A budget of £55.7 billion for the whole of HS2 was set in 2015.