PRIME MINISTER Rishi Sunak has scrapped the HS2 high-speed rail line from the West Midlands to Manchester during his Conservative Party conference speech on Wednesday (4).
The cancellation includes everything beyond the London-Birmingham route, with the £36 billion saved set to be reinvested in transport initiatives across the North, Midlands, and nationwide, The BBC reported.
Furthermore, Sunak confirmed that HS2 will proceed to Euston as planned, albeit under the supervision of a new management team.
During his appearance on BBC Breakfast earlier, Defence Secretary Grant Shapps affirmed that a new high-speed rail line to Manchester would not be constructed.
He mentioned that HS2 trains would continue operating to Manchester and Leeds but would utilise existing tracks.
The construction of the London to Birmingham leg of HS2 is already underway.
Shapps, the former transport secretary under Boris Johnson, highlighted that there would still be significantly reduced journey times to Manchester.
He indicated that the government had to reevaluate the allocation of “billions of pounds” for HS2 due to changes in travel patterns following the Covid pandemic.
These considerations led to the exploration of alternative projects, the details of which were outlined in Sunak’s conference speech in Manchester.
Local leaders and businesses have already expressed anger in response to the reports. Andy Burnham, the Labour mayor of Greater Manchester, criticised the government, accusing them of showing disrespect to the people in the North of England.
Andy Street, the Conservative West Midlands mayor, who previously cautioned against scrapping HS2, is reportedly deeply concerned about the prime minister’s decision.
Former prime ministers Boris Johnson, Theresa May, and David Cameron also cautioned against reducing the high-speed line.
But despite opposition from some Tory MPs, who argue it is wasteful, others have advocated for alternative methods to enhance transportation networks.
Additionally, a group of 30 businesses, including Manchester United football club, wrote to the prime minister, urging him to support the HS2 high-speed rail line to prevent economic damage.
HS2 was expected to reduce travel times, alleviate congestion on the rail network, and stimulate job growth outside London. However, there had been concerns centred around the project’s rising costs, estimated at about £71bn in 2019, not factoring in recent increases in material and labour expenses.
Despite mounting pressure, Sunak asserted on Tuesday (3) that he wouldn’t be rushed into a decision about HS2’s future.
Both supporters and opponents of HS2 within the Tory ranks have been disappointed that the matter has eclipsed the party conference in Manchester, a city that stands to lose the most from the decision.
In recent days, there have been discussions about redirecting funds from HS2 towards enhancing east-west rail links across northern England. One such initiative, Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), aims to improve connections between Leeds, Manchester, and Liverpool. However, NPR’s design relies on intersecting with HS2, utilising a section of the high-speed line.
If HS2 does not extend to Manchester, it would escalate the costs of NPR. Henri Murrison, the CEO of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, described the cancellation of the HS2 line as “a national tragedy here in the north of England, economically at least.”
HS2 was originally proposed in 2010 and received approval in 2012, hailed by then-Conservative Transport Secretary Justine Greening as “the most significant transport infrastructure project since the building of the motorways”.
The project has faced delays, disruptions, a substantial reduction in its Eastern leg, and incremental modifications. However, this recent decision threatens to fundamentally alter the project and its intended outcomes.
Over £22.5 billion has been invested in constructing the London-Birmingham section of HS2, with an additional £2.3 billion allocated to the second phase, covering expenses like land and property acquisition. The project has engaged thirty thousand individuals, predominantly in the supply chain. Moreover, some residents have experienced displacement due to property purchases along the proposed HS2 route north of Birmingham.