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Northern leg of HS2 Birmingham to Manchester set to be scrapped over soaring costs

Liam Coleman and Katie Boyden Monday 2 Oct 2023 2:05 pm

The high-speed network was due across the north of the country (Picture: PA)

The northern leg of the HS2 line is set to be scrapped, it has been reported. Rumours have been circulating for weeks that the high-speed rail line was going to be axed by the Prime Minister due to soaring costs.

Sky News and ITV broke the news moments before Chancellor Jeremy Hunt gave his speech at the Tory Party conference in Manchester, overshadowing his announcement on the rise of the minimum wage.

Hunt had previously suggested the HS2 scheme is ‘out of control’, and former transport secretary Grant Shapps said the government couldn’t write an ‘open-ended cheque’ if costs kept going up.

The first leg, between London and Birmingham, is already under construction.

HS2 is seen as key to the government’s pledge to ‘level up’ the country. Labour and some Tory MPs have warned against scaling it back.

Downing Street has refused to confirm or deny whether the northern leg will be scrapped but says no final decisions have been made.

HS2 is said to have cost the government millions of pounds already (Picture: PA)

An aerial view of the HS2 Streethay bridge which will allow high-speed trains to pass under the West Coast rail mainline (Picture: Getty)

A No 10 spokesman said on Monday: ‘These reports are incorrect. No final decisions have been taken on phase two of HS2.’

On Saturday, former PM Theresa May became the latest Conservative voice to warn against downgrading the project.

Plans to scrap HS2 has in the past drawn criticism from former prime ministers David Cameron and Boris Johnson, the mayors of London and Greater Manchester, and some business leaders.

Other criticism includes that of Byline Times political editor Adam Bienkov, who pointed out on X (formerly Twitter): ‘So to summarise, the government has just announced plans to scrap the biggest public transport infrastructure project planned for any northern city, while taking part in its conference in that same city, which its Chancellor chose to travel to by plane.’

Andy Burnham, mayor of Manchester, described reports that the Manchester leg of HS2 will be shelved as ‘profoundly depressing’.

Speaking at a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference, he said: ‘This will be remembered as the conference when they pulled the plug on us.

Andy Burnham: The government is treating the people of Greater Manchester as second-class citizens (Picture: PA)

‘What gives them the right to treat people here in Greater Manchester and the north of England as second-class citizens?

‘We’re growing faster than the UK economy. We’re a success story and then, behind you, you have got people working against you.

‘If this railway goes from outer London through the Home Counties and ends up in Birmingham, it will be a monument of the places Whitehall cares about.’

Hull MP, Labour’s Karl Turner, commented: ‘Imagine holding your conference in an old railway station and announcing scrapping HS2 to that very city.’

And Lib Dem transport spokesperson Wera Hobhouse said: ‘Rishi Sunak using a conference in Manchester to cancel the northern leg of HS2 would make Liz Truss look like a political genius.’

A budget of £55.7 billion for the whole of HS2 was set in 2015, but some reports suggest costs have now surpassed £100 billion, having been driven up by recent inflation rises.

It is understood the Department of Transport (DfT) has worked up a package of alternative projects – rail, bus and road schemes – which could be funded from money saved by scrapping the Manchester to Birmingham leg of the project.


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