ndy Burnham has hit out at reports that Rishi Sunak is on the verge of scrapping the HS2 leg from Birmingham to Manchester.
The mayor of Greater Manchester said scrapping parts of the project is a “decision of epic proportions for our part of the world” and would undermine the city’s attempts to improve its transport.
The Prime Minister and Chancellor could meet as soon as this week to sign off on the future of the line following growing speculation it could be curtailed to save money.
Grant Shapps, the Defence Secretary, said it would be “irresponsible” to continue building HS2 towards the north of England if its costs prove unsustainable.
Mr Burnham told the BBC he will be writing to the Prime Minister on Monday to warn him against scrapping the high speed rail project.
He told the Today programme: “Scrapping HS2 rips the heart out of northern powerhouse rail.
“It would leave the north of England with Victorian infrastructure, probably for the rest of this century.
“And if we’re trapped with that old infrastructure and the southern half of the country has new lines that is a recipe for the north-south divide to become a north-south chasm, the very opposite of the levelling up that we were promised in this Parliament.”
Former chancellor George Osborne and ex-deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine warned that axing the Manchester route would be a “gross act of vandalism” which would mean “abandoning” the North and Midlands.
Writing in The Times, they warned Mr Sunak: “Governments are remembered for what they build and create. Make this mistake and yours may only be known for what it cancelled and curtailed.”
If the northern section was cancelled “the remaining stump, little more than a shuttle service from Birmingham to a London suburb, would become an international symbol of our decline”, they said.
Commons Health Committee chairman Steve Brine said it would look “odd” to scrap the scheme in the days before Tory MPs and activists arrive in Manchester for the party conference.
He also said he hoped the line would run all the way into central London rather than terminating at Old Oak Common in the capital’s western suburbs.
“It would seem very odd for us to be in Manchester next week and can a project to Manchester,” Mr Brine told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour.
“It would seem very odd not to bring this new rail line into central London and just stop it at Old Oak Common.
“So I really hope a way can be found to do this.”
The Sunday Telegraph reported the potential cost of the high-speed rail scheme – which Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has said is “out of control” – had increased by £8 billion just for the initial London-Birmingham stretch, up from £45 billion.
Downing Street and Treasury insiders suggested no timing had yet been fixed for any announcement on the future of the scheme.
But the Prime Minister and Chancellor are reported to be meeting to discuss the situation in the coming days.
Former transport secretary Mr Shapps used broadcast interviews on Sunday to say the Government could not write an “open-ended cheque” if costs were “inexorably going higher and higher”.
In a hint that a delay rather than an outright cancellation could be an option, Mr Shapps said: “I think the sequencing of what happens next is a perfectly legitimate question.”
The Independent reported the northern leg of the scheme could be pushed back by up to seven years.