Rishi Sunak has confirmed that the northern leg of HS2 will not go ahead.
After days of speculation in which the Prime Minister refused to confirm the future of the high-speed rail line, Sunak has announced that the northern leg of HS2 has been cancelled.
Speaking at the Tory conference in Manchester, Sunak said that “facts have changed” around HS2.
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“So I am ending this long running saga. I am cancelling the rest of the HS2 project,” Mr Sunak announced.
The Prime Minister went on to say that “every single penny” of the £36 billion saved from scrapping the northern leg of HS2 would be spent on new transport projects in the North and Midlands.
This includes the creation of what he named Network North, which involves improvements to road, rail and bus schemes.
The projects he mentioned in his speech to the Conservative Party conference were:
- Train journeys from Manchester on a “fully electrified line” to a new station in Bradford in 30 minutes, Sheffield in 42 minutes and Hull in one hour and 24 minutes.
- He will “protect the £12 billion to link up Manchester and Liverpool as planned”.
- Build the Midlands Rail Hub connecting 50 stations.
- Extend the West Midlands Metro.
- Build a tram network in Leeds.
- Electrify the North Wales Mainline.
- Keep the £2 cap on single bus fares across England.
- Upgrade the A1, A2, A5 and M6 roads.
- Upgrade the A75 to boost links between Scotland and Northern Ireland.
- Fund the proposed Shipley Bypass in Bradford, the Blyth Relief Road in Northumberland and “deliver 70 other road schemes”.
- Resurface roads “across the country”.
- Reopen the Don Valley railway line between Sheffield and Stocksbridge, South Yorkshire.
- Upgrade the Energy Coast railway line between Carlisle, Workington and Barrow, Cumbria.
- Build “hundreds of other schemes”.
He said, “Our plan will drive far more growth and opportunity here in the north than a faster train to London ever would.”
HS2 will still run to Euston in central London, the Prime Minister confirmed. However, HS2 Ltd has been stripped of responsibility for Euston station as there “must be some accountability for the mistakes made”.
Laurence Turner, the GMB union’s head of research and policy, said: “Rishi Sunak’s decision to inflict the biggest rail cut since the Beeching axe will send a shockwave through the construction industry and railway supply chain, costing hundreds of jobs.
“The UK’s political instability was already holding the economy back – it will now be even harder to fund and deliver the new infrastructure that the country desperately needs.
“We can’t rebalance the economy or fix the railway capacity crisis without HS2. It’s essential that the planned route is now protected so that a future government can reverse this disastrous decision.”
Mick Whelan, general secretary of the train drivers’ union Aslef said: “This Government is not levelling up – as it has repeatedly promised to do – but levelling down. This is not the green, efficient, modern railway of the future we were promised. But a dodgy decision based on bad advice that means millions of people will not be able to benefit from this project.“
Speaking to reporters after the Prime Minister’s speech, Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: “We will be working closely with mayors in the North and the Midlands of all political parties to deliver for the people that we all seek to serve.”
“HS2 was not going to arrive in this city for 20 years, so we are taking the money we are saving. Some of it will be available sooner rather than later.
“Of course it’s not all going to be available next year to spend, but it was never going to be spent all next year on HS2.” He added: “This set of transport needs I think are closer to what people want to see than what was on the table before.”
Sky’s Beth Rigby asked if many of the projects Rishi Sunak said would receive funding after the scrapping of the HS2 project from Birmingham to Manchester has already been promised previously.
Mr Harper responded: “That’s not right. The £36 billion that we’re saving from not doing the northern party of HS2… these projects were projects that were not happening and not funded.
“These are projects are now going to happen and they are going to be delivered. And I think they’re closer to what people want to see.”
Responding to a comment that Northern Powerhouse Rail running through Bradford with a new station was something Rishi Sunak had previously cancelled as chancellor, Mr Harper said: “The £2 billion that we’ve announced that’s going to be invested in connectivity for Bradford and its new station, that wasn’t on the table before the Prime Minister stood up and said that now.” He added: “Under a previous prime minister some of these things weren’t happening. The Prime Minister set out his decision… because his judgment is, the Government’s judgment is the £36 billion that we were going to spend on HS2 is better spent on different transport connections.”
3 October –
Sunak refuses to rule out cancelling northern leg of HS2
Rishi Sunak has refused to confirm he is planning to scrap the northern leg of the HS2 line but said that if he deems it necessary “of course that’s what I’ll do.”
Despite widespread expectation that he will axe the project due to “enormous” costs, Sunak has refused to confirm his plans.
The Prime Minister said the price of the scheme had gone “far beyond” what was originally planned but declined to publicly say he would save billions by cancelling the Birmingham to Manchester leg.
The HS2 scheme was given a budget of £55.7 billion in 2015 but costs have ballooned, with an estimate of up to £98 billion – in 2019 prices – in 2020.
Since then soaring inflation will have pushed costs even higher.
“It’s clear that the costs of this programme have escalated far beyond what anyone thought at the beginning,” Mr Sunak told Times Radio.
“I know there’s lots of speculation on it but what I would say is I’ll approach this in the same way I approach everything in this job, I will take the time to look at it properly, get across the detail and then decide what’s right for the country.
“The sums involved are enormous and it’s right that the Prime Minister takes proper care over it.
“It’s obviously not my money – it’s taxpayers’ money and we should make the right decisions on these things.”
On BBC Breakfast, he said: “As you saw with my recent decision on net zero, when I make a decision that I think is important of course I go and explain that to everyone, explain why I’m doing what I’m doing, why I thought it was right to change direction there.”
He added: “If that happens and is necessary, of course that’s what I’ll do.”
The Prime Minister is expected to hold an emergency Cabinet meeting to sign off the measures during his party conference in the city most directly hit by the cut to HS2.
The Times reported that after intense lobbying from within his Cabinet he will say the line will terminate in Euston, in central London, rather than the western suburb of Old Oak Common.
Tory mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street made an impassioned last-ditch appeal to Mr Sunak not to cancel the link between Birmingham and Manchester.
Street did not rule out resigning over the issue, and said: “You will be turning your back on an opportunity to level up – a once-in-a-generation opportunity.
“You will indeed be damaging your international reputation as a place to invest.”
Labour’s Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said: “If they’re about to pull the plug, that would just be a desperate act of a dying government with nowhere left to go.”
An expanded Northern Powerhouse Rail project linking cities, and cash for potholes and bus routes, could be announced to sweeten the pill of curtailing the project feared to have spiralled past £100 billion.
But the decision would be overruling the concerns of Tory former prime ministers Boris Johnson, Theresa May and David Cameron.
And the chaotic handling of the announcement, which has been the subject of briefings and leaks for weeks, has threatened to overshadow a conference which is intended as a pre-election showcase for Tory policies. But Mr Sunak insisted “actually we’re having a great conference” and “the mood here is great”.