At Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party Conference speech in Manchester, the UK Prime Minister confirmed the cancellation of HS2 Phase 2.
In his speech, Sunak emphasised the importance of improving connectivity for all communities across the north, rather than simply prioritising links between big cities.
He has therefore launched the ‘Network North’ programme that aims to reinvest the cost of HS2 into alternate transport projects.
This decision has been made in spite of significant industry support for HS2 Phse 2 to be delivered.
“A false consensus has taken root that all that matters are links between our big connotations...What we really need is better transport connections in the north. A new Network North that will join up with great towns and cities in the North and Midlands. I wanted to come here to Manchester today to say that this will be our priority.
“HS2 is the ultimate example of the old consensus. The result is a project, whose costs have more than doubled, which has been repeatedly, delayed, and is not scheduled to reach here in Manchester for almost two decades. The economic case has massively been weakened with the changes to business travel, post-COVID. The facts have changed and the right thing to do when the facts change is to have the courage to change direction.
“I am ending this long-running saga. I am cancelling the rest of the HS2 project, and in its place, we will reinvest every single penny of the 36 billion pounds in hundreds of new transport projects.”
Sunak states that as a result of this decision, every region outside of London will receive the same or more government investment than they would have done under HS2.
The funds will instead be invested in schemes such as an electrified rail line connecting Manchester with Bradford, Sheffield and Hull; the Midlands Rail Hub connecting 50 different stations; the extension of the West Midlands Metro; the construction of a tram line in Leeds; and the electrification of the North Wales Main Line.
Due to the existing progress of the HS2 line from London to Birmingham, Sunak did confirm that this phase of the project will be completed.
However, a significant share of the funds will also move away from rail and will instead be invested in road schemes. This includes upgrades to the A1, A2, A5, and M6, as well as connections to the A75, funding for the Shipley bypass, the Blythe relief road and 70 other road schemes.
“Our plan will drive far more growth and opportunity here in the north than a faster train to London ever would... For too long, people in Westminster have invested in the transport they want, not the transport the rest of the country, particularly the North the Midlands want.”
Despite Sunak’s conviction that this decision reflects the needs and wants of the North and the Midlands, Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands has expressed his extreme disappointment at the announcement, stating that he “won’t let HS2 go without a fight.”
Meanwhile, the UK’s High Speed Rail Group has expressed the belief that this U-turn will “make Birmingham Britain’s biggest bottleneck.”
“Today’s news is a devastating blow to our industry and our whole economy. For 15 years we have worked with the government to develop this project - their project - taking it from a concept to construction. Companies have invested in people, skills and equipment on the back of it with some even relocating in anticipation of it being completed.
“If we want to truly level up our country, it cannot be a choice between HS2 and other projects. The UK needs 21st century infrastructure, bringing all of its cities closer together. HS2 is the key foundation for that network. Every other major European country has managed to build a high speed rail network, recognising it’s a vital part of a modern society and economy for years to come. We’d like to think Britain still could too.”
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