Rishi Sunak is absolutely committed to levelling up as row grows over HS2

Rishi Sunak pledges he is committed to levelling up but refuses to back building HS2 to the North – despite warnings that axing the line would be a “gross act of vandalism”.

The Prime Minister is understood to be considering scrapping or delaying the leg of the high-speed rail network from Birmingham to Manchester because of soaring costs.

He is expected to decide on the future of the project within days. Mr Sunak yesterday would not comment on what he described as “speculation”.

But he added: “What I would say is we’re absolutely committed to levelling up and spreading opportunity around the country, not just in the North but in the Midlands, in all other regions of our fantastic country.

“And transport infrastructure is a key part of that, not just big rail projects but also local projects, improving local bus services, fixing pot holes, all of these things make a difference in people’s day-to-day lives.”

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His remarks came amid a growing chorus of anger over the expected decision.

Former chancellor George Osborne and ex-deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine yesterday joined the chorus of voices against axing the route.

They warned in a letter to a newspaper that “governments are remembered for what they build and create – make this mistake and yours may only be known for what it cancelled and curtailed”.

The pair warned that if the northern section was scrapped: “The remaining stump, little more than a shuttle service from Birmingham to a London suburb, would become an international symbol of our decline.

“The Government should examine why other European countries have been able to build high-speed rail more cheaply, and bring the same review of planning for big energy infrastructure to transport projects that it is promising. That’s a sensible serious way forward, not the gross act of vandalism that cancelling HS2 would represent.”

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The letter followed days of speculation about the northern line.

There have been multiple reports suggesting a meeting between the PM and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to make the final decision could happen before this weekend’s Conservative Party conference in Manchester.

Officials fear the project, first touted by Labour in 2009 but started under Boris Johnson, could cost £100billion-plus – up from £30billion when MPs first approved the scheme in 2010.

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown also weighed into the row, warning: “If you embark on a big infrastructure project, you cause confusion and chaos if you just give up on a project halfway through.”

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