‘Extreme disappointment’ as PM scraps northern leg of HS2


The HS2 rail line connecting Birmingham and Manchester has been scrapped in what will be a crushing blow to suppliers and contractors in the construction supply chain.  

Credit: HS2, and Chris McAndrew, via Wikimedia Commons.

UK prime minister Rishi Sunak confirmed the cancellation of construction of the northern phase of HS2 during his Conservative Party Conference speech in Manchester. 

Conservative mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, is said to be furious at the decision.  

Balfour Beatty Group chief executive, , wrote on social media: “This latest announcement on the future of HS2 […] is incredibly disappointing for the construction and infrastructure industry. Whilst it can be easy to lament the cost of delivering a high-speed railway, doing so would be to vastly overlook the wider benefits such a project brings – namely, the creation of thousands of jobs, the stimulus for innovation and productivity, and the ability to help drive UK economic growth and prosperity.”

Director of operations for the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA), Marie-Claude Hemming, said this is “a dark day for the UK economy”.

Railway Industry Association (RIA) chief executive, Darren Caplan, called it the “nuclear option”, adding sector workers would be “extremely disappointed” at the decision.

It follows weeks of speculation about the future of the northern leg after the PM and chancellor Jeremy Hunt recently held talks about cost.  

Downing Street has faced mounting criticism about the proposal since it first came to light, with former chairman of HS2, Allan Cook, saying any decision to scale down the project would be “a betrayal of the North and our growth ambition as a country.”   

Former chancellor, George Osborne, called it a “gross act of vandalism”.

Former transport secretary, Grant Shapps, has publicly supported the prime minister’s actions, saying it is “perfectly proper and responsible” to review the future of the project given current costs.   

“I challenge anyone to tell me with a straight face that all of that isn’t what the North really needs,” the prime minister said of his transport plans.

Birmingham to Euston

Mr Sunak added the line from Birmingham to Euston will be finished but that HS2 Ltd will not be responsible for the Euston site, meaning Euston station is no longer a public sector project.

Instead, a Euston “development zone” will be built with thousands of new homes and businesses, similar to the Battersea scheme. 

There must be accountability for the mistakes made,” said Mr Sunak

Billions for new schemes

Mr Sunak instead pledged to “reinvest” in the region of £36 billion in other transport networks in the North, the Midlands and throughout the UK – including the Midlands Rail Hub connecting 50 stations, the West Midlands Metro extension, and upgrades to the A1, A2, A5, and the M6.

Other promises included £12 billion to link Liverpool and Manchester as planned, fully electrified trains to Sheffield, Bradford and Hull, to construct the Leeds tramline, and to fund the Shipley bypass and the Blyth relief road. 

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.   

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.   

Recent estimates for HS2 put the total cost between £70 billion and £100 billion. 

Balfour Beatty Group chief executive, “Whilst I welcome the transport projects across the north of England announced by the Prime Minister today, cancelling phase two of HS2 now presents a new challenge for our industry: the ability to upskill, train and retain the generation of talent required to deliver the infrastructure that this country must have.
“Government must do better for our industry. In the meantime, it falls to industry leaders to double down on their responsibility to our industry’s future talent.”

‘Blows a hole in levelling up and net zero’

“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,” said Caplan.

“For companies with existing contracts, the implications of the Prime Minister’s proposal to release £6.5bn from the Euston site and create a development zone are particularly unclear.

“Already, multinational railway businesses will be making plans to rationalise their workforces and investments in a way that will be detrimental to the country’s rail supply sector specifically and UK plc more widely.

“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.”

Noble Francis, economics director at the Construction Products Association, said on social media: “Doing local roads, trams and rail projects in the North isn’t a substitute and it is vital to do both these and HS2 in the North.

“Both better local and national infrastructure is critical, not for the construction industry, but because infrastructure enables economic activity, jobs and greater productivity in the wider economy. It is investment, not spending.

“The costs of major projects like HS2 in the North are spread over years whereas the benefits are across decades or even centuries if properly maintained.

“And rising costs are not an excuse to cancel it, they are a reason for government to improve its project planning and procurement in advance and project management during projects whilst it is also a reason to cut out the short-term PR/political gains of ministers pausing, reviewing and changing projects that causes many of the cost rises.”

‘A dark day’

Director of operations for the Civil Engineering Contractors Association, (CECA), Marie-Claude Hemming, said: “This is a dark day for the UK economy, and for everyone who has placed trust in successive UK governments to level up the country and close the north-south divide.

“While the Prime Minister has promised to reinvest HS2 money in alternative schemes, we as an industry know how unlikely this will be to materialise and impact communities in anything like the game-changing way that high-speed rail would have delivered.

“Britain now lags far behind our competitors and will remain so due to this short-sighted decision.

“That the UK Government can make such a decision without a democratic mandate – after the scheme has been supported by all parties throughout successive General Elections – frankly beggars belief.”

‘Billions of public money wasted’

RMT general secretary, Mick Lynch, added: “The incompetence of successive Tory governments has now cost the taxpayer billions and led to this disastrous decision for Britain’s economy, environment and our ailing transport infrastructure.”

Adding: “High-speed rail together with a modern expanding public transport network is key to the future of linking every part of our country together, from north to south and east to west.
“Public transport investment is not an either-or question. The fact is we will not be able to tackle the climate emergency without encouraging people to use modern, cheap and efficient high-speed rail and hugely expanded local bus services. 
“The key to thriving economies of the future is to be environmentally sustainable and to interconnect cities, towns and villages to promote economic activity. 
“The Conservative government is playing political games ahead of an election and instead of investing properly in Britain’s public transport and high-speed future, Rishi Sunak risks putting the country in the slow lane.”


Image credit: Chris McAndrew, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons. 

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