Ed Balls has defended his party’s position on High Speed 2 and stressed that Labour’s support would not be at “any cost”.
He said the idea of a new North-South rail link could ease capacity constraints but continued to raise concern over the projects rising costs.
Speaking at the CBI’s annual conference, he said: “The Labour Party cannot – and will not – give the government a blank cheque.
“That is what you would expect from any credible official opposition seeing a government desperately mismanaging a project. And that is what is happening here with the costs having shot up to £50bn.”
His comments chimed with former chancellor Alistair Darling’s remarks to Construction News last month when he said that Mr Balls was being “entirely sensible and cautious” over HS2.
Mr Balls added: “We will put the national interest and the taxpayer interest first. We will take a hard-headed look at the costs and benefits of the scheme to ensure this is the best way to spend £50bn for the future of our country.”
He said Labour will set up an independent infrastructure commission to end “dither and delay” on infrastructure planning and ensure that costs on large-scale future projects are properly thought through.
He was making reference to a Labour-commissioned Armitt Review, which looked at how to plan and deliver future infrastructure projects.
The prime minister said incoming HS2 boss Sir David Higgins would address the costs and benefits of the scheme. He will report to the transport secretary in March before the reading of the Hybrid Bill.
Their comments came after a recent study found that the benefit to cost ratio of the £42.6bn project was lower than that for upgrading the existing rail network.
On overall infrastructure investment, the shadow chancellor said the government should be working now to bring forward long-term investment into the sector.
He added that a chancellor “should never simply become a cheerleader for any particular project” in reference to HS2 and stressed that building consensus about long-term infrastructure did not mean “turning a blind eye to value for money”.