Boris Johnson has announced HS2 will get the go-ahead, as part of a wider announcement on transport including more services and cheaper fares for bus passengers.
The prime minister threw his weight behind the controversial north-south line in a statement in parliament on Tuesday, as part of a “transport revolution.”
He acknowledged “poor management” but said it did not undermine the case for HS2 in boosting capacity, journey times and regional prosperity.
Johnson also unveiled £5bn ($6.5bn) of bus and cycle funding outside London, with plans for more frequent services, 4,000 new zero-emission buses, and simpler, more affordable fares. Dozens of ‘mini-Holland’ bike schemes are planned for town centres, with 250 miles of new separated cycle lanes.
Costs have spiralled and timetables over-ran on Britain’s new high-speed line, with officials accused by a watchdog of under-estimating complexity and risks.
The launch date for the first phase between London and Birmingham has slid from 2026 to 2031.
Preparation work at more than 250 locations has already cost the government at least £7.4bn, but construction has not begun. A leaked government review suggests costs could balloon to £106bn, compared to an initial budget of £32.7bn at 2011 prices.
The project has attracted widespread criticism among many Conservative MPs, while campaigners also fear significant environmental damage.
But the potential benefits of the line for business and commuters in better connecting the UK mean it enjoys widespread support among many business and political leaders across Britain.
“It's time to stop debating and start delivering the new capacity and connections that HS2 will bring to our communities and businesses,” said British Chamber of Commerce director general Adam Marshall.
The government’s announcement on bus investment was welcomed by transport campaign groups after years of government cuts to local bus funding. A study last year found more than 3,000 routes had been cut or abolished.
“This is a significant step change from the government and welcome news for communities up and down the country who have borne the brunt of poor or non-existent local public transport in recent years,” said Darren Shirley, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport.
But Labour’s shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said the proposals were “nowhere near enough” to reverse the damage from years of under-investment.