After weeks of speculation, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has finally announced that his government will be scrapping plans to continue phase two of its high-speed rail line from Birmingham to Manchester (HS2) during a speech at the Conservative Party Conference.
Speaking at the conference centre in the former Manchester Central railway station, Sunak said: “HS2 is the ultimate example of the old consensus, the result is a project whose cost has almost doubled.”
The Prime Minister announced that the £36bn expected to be spent on the line would instead be spent on transport links in Northern England and the West Midlands including a project he called “Network North.”
There will also be significant spending in the Southern regions of England.
Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham and leader of Manchester City Council, Bev Craig, held a joint press conference on the platform of the world’s first intercity railway. The Manchester-Liverpool line opened in 1830 and is now part of a museum of Manchester’s industrial past.
“We haven’t got a plan here,” Burnham said. “It does not deliver a new line. It involves patching up existing lines.”
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Burnham was not only angry about the cancelled leg of the major project, but at the communication between the central government and the region’s leaders.
“It has been a highly frustrating week for us – it cannot be right that a project we’ve worked on together – we’ve been at this for 15 years – [is scrapped].
“We’ve worked hard at it and devoted a lot of time and energy… I think this city-region is entitled to more respect,” he said.
Craig, a rising star in the opposition Labour Party, added the lack of communication before PM Sunak’s announcement was “the final nail in the coffin.”
She added: “I don’t think we can just let this go.”
While Sunak did not mention NPR in his speech, the Prime Minister said that the government would be sticking with plans to link up Manchester and Liverpool and building the Midlands Rail Hub to connect 50 stations in the region.
Despite this, the industry has continued to condemn the decision with the Railway Industry Association describing the decision as “unnecessary” and saying it “squanders the full benefits of Phase 1” of the project.
Chief Executive Darren Caplan said: “Today’s nuclear option is defeatist and sends a terrible signal to potential overseas investors that the UK simply cannot deliver large national transport infrastructure schemes.”
“This also blows a hole in the Government’s levelling-up and decarbonisation agendas – none of the replacement regional schemes referred to will have the same impact of building the HS2 in full.” He added.
Sir John Peace, chairman of the Midlands Connect transport body, echoed a similar sentiment saying he was “disappointed and disheartened”, he said: “We are now calling for more detail on timescales and plan of action, and asking for a high-level urgent meeting with ministers, to ensure these plans and the benefits for the Midlands are delivered as quickly as possible.”
The Northern transport body, Transport for the North described the decison as “naturally disappointing.”
Chair Lord McLoughlin 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.
“Only last week, northern business and political leaders came together at our TfN Board to speak with ‘one voice’ to reaffirm our position that HS2 and NPR in full are vital to truly transform the North.”