Delays and rising costs hit HS2

The HS2 high-speed rail programme has suffered another major blow with the news that the first phase will be delayed by up to five years amid rising costs.

The new link between London and Birmingham was due to open at the end of 2026. However, trains will not now run on the line until 2028 at the earliest and possibly not until 2031.

And the second phase, linking the route to Manchester and Leeds, has been pushed back to 2035-2040, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has revealed.

HS2’s total cost has also risen from £62bn to between £81bn and £88bn. The revelation of the price hike and delays comes after an announcement that there will be a government review into the massive infrastructure project.

Mr Shapps’ statement on the delay and cost was based on a report from the chairman of HS2, Allan Cook, which concluded that the transport project could not be delivered within the current budget.

Mr Shapps said: “There is no future in obscuring the true costs of a large infrastructure project - as well as the potential benefits.”

The delays have been blamed on the fact that the original plans did not account for the effect of building through densely-populated areas with difficult geographical features.

A decision on the future of the project is set to be made by the end of the year following the completion of the independent review.

The North is the manufacturing centre of the UK and is unable to efficiently move goods to UK and overseas customers due to a lack of freight capacity.

It will consider whether and how the project to connect London, the Midlands and northern England should proceed, looking at costs and benefits.

The review team will look at HS2’s benefits and impacts as well as its affordability, efficiency, deliverability and scope.

It will also look at the phasing of the programme, including its relationship with Northern Powerhouse Rail.

A final report will be sent to the Transport Secretary, with oversight from the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, by the autumn.

Boris Johnson has expressed doubts about the project, having said during his Tory leadership campaign that he wanted a full investigation into its costs and scope before deciding on its future. He spoke of his “anxieties about the business case”.

Business and political leaders from the North have joined forces to launch a new campaign – Connecting Britain – which demands that the government press ahead with HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail.

East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce chief executive Miranda Barker has called for the HS2 rail programme to be “enacted swiftly” to allow the county to become more competitive.

Miranda, who chairs the North West’s Regional Manufacturing Forum, has called for HS2 to proceed in its entirety “in full co-ordination" with Northern Powerhouse Rail.

She said: “The North West is hamstrung economically by having now only limited capacity on north-south rail and road networks and only one mediocre east-west rail route.

“The North of England is the manufacturing centre of the UK and is unable to efficiently move goods to UK and overseas customers due to a lack of freight capacity.

“For Lancashire - the fourth largest aerospace cluster in the world, this damages our economic competitiveness on a global scale and curtails the UK’s economic competitiveness.

“HS2 needs to be enacted swiftly, in its entirety and in full co-ordination with Northern Powerhouse Rail to maximise the economic benefit to the UK as a whole.”

And Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, has also described HS2 as a “vital project.” The partnership has launched its own review into the project.

It says that its study will ensure the region is properly heard. Mr Murison said that Preston was one of the cities that would benefit from better rail connections under an integrated plan.

  • For further Lancashire business news, advice and analysis subscribe to Lancashire Business View or join the LBV Hub from just £2.50 per month. Click here to subscribe now.