LONDON (Reuters) – British opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said on Thursday he could not commit to reversing Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s decision to cancel part of the HS2 high-speed rail project if he wins an election expected next year.
Sunak on Wednesday scrapped the northern leg of the costly project and pledged to invest billions of pounds in local rail and road links instead, saying it was more suitable for a post-pandemic world.
Business groups and trade unions criticised the decision to cut in half Britain’s biggest infrastructure project, warning the move would hit productivity, cause job losses and put more lorries on the roads.
“I can’t stand here and give a commitment to reversing that decision. They have taken a wrecking ball to it,” Starmer told reporters when asked what Labour would do.
Sunak’s Conservatives, who have been in power since 2010, are badly lagging Labour in opinion polls, with a Savanta poll published on Wednesday giving Labour a 19-point lead.
In a separate interview with ITV, Starmer said Labour had wanted HS2 in full but that the government was now about to cancel contracts and release land it had bought for the project.
Starmer said he would work with regional leaders to ensure there are sufficient transport links between and within cities.
“Wherever there are projects that the government has announced it’s going to do, then we’ll obviously continue with them, that’s very, very important,” he told ITV.
HS2 was designed to connect London with major cities in central and northern England. But costs soared to over 106 billion pounds ($129 billion), according to a 2020 estimate, from the 56 billion pounds forecast in 2015. The eastern link to Leeds had already been scrapped.
($1 = 0.8216 pounds)
(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Sachin Ravikumar)