Boris Johnson is facing increased pressure to pull the plug on HS2, after a leaked version of Doug Oakervee’s report suggested costs could spiral to £106 billion.
Former Brexit Secretary David Davis said that the “white elephant” project “must be scrapped” in order to invest in other regional infrastructure.
The Prime Minister is faced with competing warnings that cancelling the high-speed line would lead to “second-class” railways in the North.
An inquiry led by former HS2 chairman Doug Oakervee reportedly found there is “considerable risk” that the high-speed rail project’s cost will rise by up to 20 per cent beyond the £81 billion to £88 billion range set out in a report by current HS2 chairman Allan Cook just four months ago.
Mr Oakervee’s review recommends that work on phase 2b of HS2 from the West Midlands to Manchester and Leeds should be paused for six months to investigate if it could be a mix of conventional and high-speed lines, according to the Financial Times, which has seen a copy of the paper.
The review concluded that the Government should “on balance” continue with the 250mph railway, which would initially go from London’s Euston station to Birmingham and then to Leeds and Manchester by 2040, but that this is subject to “a number of qualifications”.
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham described the leak as “quite worrying” and claimed the use of conventional lines in the North would be a “second-class option”.
A decision on whether to go ahead with the project will be made in “weeks rather than months”, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said.
He said the “massive decision” on whether to go ahead with HS2 “needs to be fact-based”.
He added: “I asked Doug Oakervee to do that report and said to him ‘Give me the facts, give me the data, give us the information so we can make a proper, informed decision’.
“I’ve always approached this from a relatively neutral point of view and that information will help to inform a decision that is best for the whole country.”
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham described the leak as “quite worrying” and claimed that using conventional lines in the North would be a “second-class option”.
He said: “It’s the same old story. London and the South gets whatever it wants, and it’s all about penny-pinching in the North.”
Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, said: “It is time to bring the damaging speculation around HS2 to an end with the prompt publication of the Oakervee Review and an unambiguous Government commitment to deliver the project in full.”
Several construction bosses have claimed scrapping the project would cause “irreparable damage” to the industry.
The chief executives of Balfour Beatty, Skanska and Morgan Sindall were among the signatories to a letter to the Prime Minister which urged him to approve the scheme and noted that it would take “many years to get an equivalent pipeline of work in place” if HS2 was cancelled.
A group of more than a dozen Tory MPs will reportedly meet the Prime Minister in the coming days to urge him to block HS2 and spend the money on other projects.
Downing Street refused to comment on the latest leaks about the cost of HS2.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The Government commissioned the Oakervee review to provide advice on whether and how to proceed with HS2.
“A draft of the Oakervee review was delivered shortly before Christmas. We are committed to publishing the findings of the review to Parliament.
“That remains the case, I am not going to pre-empt its publication.”