Rishi Sunak is battered over HS2 ‘betrayal’ as he tours regional radio studios but insists taxpayer must get ‘value for money’ – and suggests fixing potholes is as important as rail links
But Mr Sunak dodged giving any firm answers, merely insisting that the government must ‘get value for money’ in a reference to spiralling costs.
He also stressed the importance of fixing potholes and boosting local bus services.
Kicking off his blizzard of interviews on BBC Radio York on Thursday, the Prime Minister was asked whether he would be betraying the North by curtailing the high-speed rail line.
Mr Sunak replied: ‘No. I think what people will see, I mean particularly around where we are – my home is in Northallerton – we’re investing record amounts in improving infrastructure but also delivering levelling up.
Rishi Sunak (pictured on a visit earlier this week) was battered over an HS2 ‘betrayal’ today as he toured regional radio studios ahead of Tory conference kicking off
A stretch of the tunnel being constructed under the Chilterns in West Hyde
‘I mean making sure that our town centres and high streets get the investment that they need. That’s really important and making sure that, as I say, transport infrastructure is being improved.’
He said the Government is ‘investing record sums in transport infrastructure’.
‘When I speak to people when I’m at home or anywhere else around, what everyone tells me is that you’ve got to make it easier to get around all our northern towns and cities, whether it’s Hull, York, Leeds, Sheffield, all the way over to Liverpool. Connecting all those cities up is really important and we’re doing that.
‘But also investing in the local transport that people use every day, making sure that our potholes are filled, making sure that our bus services are running – particularly important in rural areas like mine.’
Mr Sunak told BBC Radio Manchester that the government ‘is always making sure that we get value for money out of everything we do’.
He also insisted that ministers are delivering ‘phase one’ of HS2.
‘There are spades in the ground right now at the moment making sure that we complete the first part of this line from Birmingham to Central London, and we are absolutely getting on with that, that is important,’ he told BBC Radio West Midlands.
An advertising hoarding for the HS2 line at the site under construction in Birmingham
Challenged over the ‘mess’ of the rail network in the North, Mr Sunak acknowledged there are ‘challenges’ which he blamed on the Covid-19 pandemic.
He suggested most journeys are made by car, saying: ‘Making sure that our roads, the potholes are maintained well, making sure that our bus services are running well, that’s all important.’
Mr Sunak said he will ‘probably be driving’ to the Tory conference ‘because train strikes have been put in place, which is very disappointing actually at a time when people are trying to just get around and do their regular business’.
‘I would be catching the train on Saturday if there weren’t strikes,’ he said.
Mr Sunak has frequently been criticised for taking helicopters rather than trains to travel to engagements outside London – arguing it is the best use of his time.