British prime minister Rishi Sunak has announced the Birmingham to Manchester leg of HS2 has been scrapped in his speech today [4 October] at the Conservative party conference.
High Speed 2 (HS2) is a planned high-speed railway line between the West Midlands and London, with a branch originally planned from Birmingham to Manchester.
On the scrapped northern leg of the project, Sunak said: “What we really need is better transport connections in the North. A new Network North that will join up our great towns and cities in the North and Midlands…HS2 is the ultimate example of the old consensus.
“The result is a project, the costs of which have more than doubled, which has been repeatedly delayed and it is scheduled to not reach here in Manchester for almost two decades and for which the economic case has massively been weakened with the changes to business travel post-Covid.
“…And so I am ending this long-running saga. I am cancelling the rest of the HS2 project and in its place we will re-invest every single penny, £36bn, in hundreds of new transport projects in the North and Midlands across the country.”
Today [4 October], the government published its Network North policy paper, which outlines ‘a new £36bn plan to improve our country’s transport’ through redeployment of funds from the scrapped project.
However, information gathered from a leaked photo of a government document on HS2 implies there is a possibility that some of the money saved could be used to help chancellor Jeremy Hunt meet his self-imposed borrowing limits, the BBC has reported.
Gordon Brown’s Labour government established HS2 Ltd in 2009; in 2020, then-prime minister Boris Johnson his government to the scheme.
Back in 2013, it was estimated the project would cost £37.5bn in 2009 prices, with a whole budget of £55.7bn being set in 2015.
However, the target cost of the project, excluding the eastern leg of Phase 2b from the West Midlands to the East Midlands, has risen to £53bn and £61bn in 2019 prices. Some £24.7bn has been spent so far, as of June 2023, in 2019 prices.
Dramatic increases in inflation have also impacted the costs associated with the project.
The Labour mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said there was “frustration and anger” over the decision.
He added: “It always seems that people here where I live and where I kind of represent can be treated as second class citizens when it comes to transport.”
Responding to the government’s decision, Lord McLoughlin, chair of Transport for the North, said: “The cancelling of the northern leg of HS2 is naturally disappointing. It’s undeniable that this will be seen by many as a missed opportunity for the region, and the country as a whole.
“…The announcement of investment in the region is obviously welcome. And we will look to work with government to fully understand the implications for the North of the proposals set out today in the Prime Minister’s speech, and consult with our board on the best way forward in light of this new change of policy.
“There are still quite a few areas that require further clarification from the Department for Transport, which we will be seeking from them.”
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