SENIOR local politicians have condemned Rishi Sunak’s decision to axe the HS2 project from Birmingham to Manchester, saying the move will harm St Helens and the North.

The Prime Minister told his party’s conference, taking place in Manchester, the HS2 project’s costs had “more than doubled”.

He said: “I say to those who backed the project in the first place, the facts have changed.

“And the right thing to do when the facts change is to have the courage to change direction.”

As part of a drive to create a new northern network, he pledged to invest in a raft of other transport schemes.

“I am ending this long-running saga. I am cancelling the rest of the HS2 project and in its place, we will reinvest every single penny, £36 billion, in hundreds of new transport projects in the North and the Midlands, across the country.

St Helens Star: Rishi SunakRishi Sunak

“This means £36 billion of investment in the projects that will make a real difference across our nation.”

Criticism of the decision has been led from the borough by the deputy leader of St Helens Borough Council, Seve Gomez-Aspron, whose portfolio includes public transport.

He said: "Last month we wrote to the Transport Secretary to express our concerns that the Northern section of HS2 was being scaled back to be scrapped, and this was denied.

“Lo and behold, it has now been scrapped at the Tory Party Conference, ironically held in a former Railway Station in Manchester.

“The whole point of HS2 isn't to get to London ten minutes faster. It's to remove long distance passenger trains from our local network to create capacity for freight and more local commuter services.

St Helens Star: Cllr Seve Gomez-AspronCllr Seve Gomez-Aspron

“Meaning less freight on the roads in the north and more local commuter services which strengthens our plans to open the St Helens Sutton Oak link and to build a new station at Carr Mill.

“We now end up with a railway that starts just outside London, and finished just outside Birmingham, which has absolutely no benefit for the North West, which is amazing considering the business case for the Northern Section is stronger than for the section under construction.

Labour’s St Helens South and Whiston MP, Marie Rimmer, said “it is always the North that gets let down".

She added: “For too long there have been embedded inequalities between North and South in our country. HS2 was a chance to really level up our country in a generational and long-term way.

“The North has been betrayed by the Tories once again and we must not forget it.”

Conor McGinn, who is an independent MP for St Helens North, said he always sceptical about the ambition or ability of Whitehall to deliver HS2.

He added: “I have always been of the view that we need to vastly improve the east-west links, and that new rail infrastructure between Liverpool and Hull via Manchester must include our stations in St Helens and Newton-le-Willows.

“But it shouldn’t have been either or, never mind neither, which seems to be the case after today after a lot of time and money has already been wasted.”

Mr Sunak, meanwhile, confirmed the scheme will run to Euston in central London, rather than terminating at Old Oak Common in the capital’s western suburbs, but promised to get a grip on the costs of the project.

He said the new plan for Euston will save £6.5 billion compared with HS2’s vision.

“The management of HS2 will no longer be responsible for the Euston site, “Mr Sunak said.

“There must be some accountability for the mistakes made, for the mismanagement of this project.

“We will instead create a new Euston development zone building thousands of new homes for the next generation of homeowners, new business opportunities and a station that delivers the capacity we need.”

Confirmation of the decision to axe the northern leg of HS2 came despite pleas from Tory West Midland mayor Andy Street to back the scheme.

With Mr Street watching on, the Prime Minister said: “We will complete the line from Birmingham to Euston and yes, HS2 trains will still run here to Manchester and journey times will be cut between Manchester, Birmingham, London by 30 minutes.

“And I say this to Andy Street, a man I have huge admiration and respect for, I know we have different views on HS2.

“But I also know we can work together to ensure a faster, stronger spine, quicker trains and more capacity between Birmingham and Manchester.”

However, following the Prime Minister’s announcement, Cllr Gomez-Aspron rounded on the Tories record for rail in the north.

He added: “The Tories don't care. They've canned Northern Power House Rail, they've stopped transpennine route upgrades, up to 75% of trains at present don't turn up. Whilst throwing billions at CrossRail in London and now the southern section of HS2.

“HS2 should be built in full, and should've started in the North, heading to London, and linking to HS1 and Europe. The Tory position does none of that and benefits us in the North in no way whatsoever.

“Which has become the common theme for this Government. The Tories just don't care about our part of the world. We need a general election now.”