Continued construction of the HS2 line connecting Birmingham and Manchester appears uncertain, as fresh controversy about the major infrastructure project unfolds.
Downing Street is facing renewed pressure about the future of the northern phase of the high-speed rail line, following reports prime minister Rishi Sunak and chancellor Jeremy Hunt recently held talks about cost.
Officials have since said the UK Government is still “committed” to HS2 – but did not guarantee the line will run to Manchester as planned, reported the BBC.
It added ministers were considering “rephasing” the project.
It follows The Independent carrying a report this week ministers were in talks over the future of the northern phase, costs and delays.
Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) chief executive, Alasdair Reisner, said cancelling the second leg of HS2 would make the UK an “international laughing stock”.
In March, the government announced the Birmingham to Crewe section of the high-speed rail line would be delayed by two years to address soaring inflation and costs.
In July, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee told the Department for Transport (DfT) and HS2 Ltd to go back to the drawing board over Euston station, part of the scheme’s southern package, to identify the real cost of pausing construction at the London terminus for two years and the full impact of that decision on the project’s supply chain.
The original vision for HS2 was to create a quick and efficient rail connection from London to Manchester and Leeds via Birmingham – however much of the line going to Leeds has since been cut.
Recent estimates for HS2 put the total cost between £70 billion and £100 billion.
“In recent years, the Government has taken successive chunks out of its proposed plans for HS2. We are now at the point where very little of the northern elements that were originally put forward are now looking set to go ahead,” said Reisner.
“Cancellation of such a nationally-significant project will level down rather than level up, massively undermining the ability of the UK economy as a whole to grow, and threaten delivery of Net Zero by 2050.
“In simple terms, a decision to axe the northern sections of HS2 would mean that we are unlikely to see high speed rail in the North anytime in the first half of this century.
“No British government has made such a short-sighted and self-harming decision since Harold Wilson’s administration stopped work on the Channel Tunnel in the mid-1970s.
“Cancelling the second leg of HS2 would not only make the UK an international laughing stock: it will actively undermine the life-chances of generations of Britons, harm our ability to fight climate change, and destroy trust in politics to deliver on a better future for us all.”
DfT was approached for comment.
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