HS2 northern leg set to be scrapped

By Ged Henderson

04 Oct 2023

Hs2

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is expected to use his Conservative Party conference speech later today to announce the scrapping of the northern leg of the HS2 rail line.

The high-speed rail link between Birmingham and Manchester – seen by many to be crucial to levelling up and a vital part of work to improve connectivity in the North – looks set to be shelved over cost concerns.

The Prime Minister would not be drawn on the matter in a series of television interviews yesterday – insisting he would not be forced into “premature decisions.”

However, it understood that he plans to use his keynote speech to the Manchester conference to make the announcement and will look to soften the blow by outlining spending on other projects in the North of England.

That could include allocating money previously ring-fenced for HS2 being switched to other transport projects in the region to improve connectivity between towns and cities.

And it is believed that his argument will be that this is a better use of the money and the projects can be delivered faster.

According to some reports HS2 will switch to using existing West Coast mainline track from Birmingham to Manchester, meaning it will not be high-speed.

In Lancashire there has been widespread belief the HS2 line would have a positive impact on the county’s economic prospects.

The Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has previously said productivity gains from the impact of HS2 services to the area could help provide an extra £600m for the county.

Mr Sunak would not confirm if a decision had been made during his round of interviews yesterday.

However, he did indicate he had already made some tough choices in recent weeks, including extending the timelines for a series of net zero initiatives.

In an interview with Sky News he said:  “I think it’s right that I’m not going to get forced into making premature decisions. Not on something that’s so important, that costs this country tens of billions of pounds.”

And he told ITV news: “I do things properly and carefully responsibly and sensibly that I approach this, but I'm also willing to do things that are bold that are different.”

The project was originally budgeted at £30bn, but the cost is now estimated to have soared higher than £100bn, even after the Leeds leg was scrapped.

However senior political and business leaders in the north have been urging the PM to keep with the project. They include Conservative voices including former chancellor George Osborne and West Midlands’ mayor Andy Street.

Greater Manchester’s Labour mayor Andy Burnham said any move to scrap the link from Birmingham would be seen as a “betrayal of the north of England”.

And business leaders in the region have been urging the PM to commit to the line to avoid “economic self-sabotage”.

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