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Cameron Commits to High-Speed Rail as Mandelson Urges Rethink

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July 3 (Bloomberg) -- U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron is committed to the building of a high-speed rail line linking London to northern England, his spokesman said as evidence mounts that all-party support for the project is fracturing.

“The prime minister’s view is that high-speed rail is an example of what we need to do to equip us to compete in the global race, secure economic prosperity, rebalance our economy and secure tens of thousands of jobs,” Cameron’s spokesman, Jean-Christophe Gray, told reporters in London today. “It’s at the heart of investment in Britain’s economic future.”

Peter Mandelson, who was a minister in the Labour governments of Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, said in an article published today that the proposed 43 billion-pound ($66 billion) line could be an “expensive mistake.” Former Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling has said he is an “HS2 skeptic.” Labour gave its support to the project in 2010.

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne reaffirmed the government’s commitment to HS2 in his spending review on June 26. The project was backed in a vote in the House of Commons on the same day.

“All the parties, especially Labour, should think twice before binding themselves irrevocably to HS2,” Mandelson, who is a lawmaker in the House of Lords and no longer holds an official post in the Labour Party, wrote in the Financial Times. “It is not all it seems and has the potential to end up a mistake, damaging in particular to those people that it was intended to help.”

The money would be better spent on upgrading existing services and being kept available for other infrastructure projects, Mandelson wrote.

“Thankfully, since Blair and Brown are gone the country no longer has to do whatever Peter Mandelson says,” transport minister, Norman Baker, said in an e-mailed statement. “The Liberal Democrats were the first party to champion high-speed rail, the Conservatives got on board and it was Labour’s Andrew Adonis who got it started. There is a genuine cross-party consensus.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Thomas Penny in London at tpenny@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net

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