Boris Johnson has rejected claims that the UK Government’s multi-billion-pound high-speed rail project will cause “economic disaster” for Scotland.
The prime minister gave the green light for the HS2 project this morning, saying the government believed it should proceed despite spiralling costs that could top £100 billion.
He committed to both the London to Birmingham rail line and the next phase from Birmingham to Leeds and Manchester, saying he would integrate the project with a Leeds to Manchester train line known as Northern Powerhouse Rail.
Phase 2B of the scheme would see the HS2 integrated into lines to Edinburgh and Glasgow by the middle to end of the decade.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said spending on infrastructure is “obviously welcome” but criticised the choice of route.
“Building the line from the south up simply does not address connectivity, and if the UK government want to make real progress and real improvements work should also start to improve the connections from Scotland to the north of England and on to London,” he said.
“No number of prime ministerial vanity projects will ever heal the economic damage and the damage to connectivity which this Tory Brexit will inflict”, he added.
Mr Blackford then joked about Mr Johnson’s purported support for a bridge across the Irish Sea to connect Northern Ireland to Scotland.
He said: “This is a prime minister that couldn’t even build a bridge across the Thames. He’ll, therefore, have to forgive those of us that are sceptical that he can build one over the 20-mile expanse of the North Sea.”
Tory MPs roared with laughter as Mr Johnson picked up on Mr Blackford’s error and said: “As far as his plan to build a bridge across the North Sea, I think he needs to look at the geography of the United Kingdom.”
Aberdeen South MP Stephen Flynn later hit out at the cost of the HS2 project, saying it would cost Aberdeen £220 million.
He said: “At the last count HS2 was projected to cost the city of Aberdeen £220 million, based upon that figure would the prime minister agree that HS2 will be an economic disaster for my city?”
This afternoon I asked the Prime Minister to accept the reality – HS2 will cost Aberdeen £220million.
Meantime, I see the MP for West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine is fawning over the project – it's almost like the Tories don't care about Aberdeen or the North East pic.twitter.com/qQmaNsVbjb
— Stephen Flynn MP (@StephenFlynnSNP) February 11, 2020
Mr Johnson batted away the suggestion, saying: “HS2 will shorten journey times across the whole of the UK including and particularity Scotland.”
North East Fife MP Wendy Chamberlain said the project would not fix economic divides unless it was “part of a bolder rail revolution”.
She added: “With more trains cancelled in Fife than any other area in Scotland, it could not be clearer that we need a wider wholesale reimagining of our rail network than simply cutting travel times between Birmingham and London.”
The announcement follows the completion of a Government-commissioned review by former HS2 Ltd chairman Douglas Oakervee into whether or not the programme should be scrapped.
Mr Johnson said: “The review recently conducted by Douglas Oakervee … leaves no doubt of the clinching case for high-speed rail.
“A vast increase in capacity with hundreds of thousands of extra seats making it much easier for travellers to move up and down our long, narrow country.
“And that means faster journey times, not just more capacity.”
The Oakervee Review found that the final bill for HS2 could reach £106 billion.