East Mids businesses being ‘levelled down’ by HS2 U-turn
Businesses in the East Midlands are being levelled down by the Conservative government’s decision to axe the HS2 line between Birmingham and Manchester, according to one prominent business leader in the region.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced the move in his keynote speech at the Tory Party conference in Manchester on Wednesday lunchtime (October 4), putting to an end days of speculation and rumour. He said: “I am ending this long running saga. I am cancelling the rest of the HS2 project.”
A Department for Transport spokesperson also confirmed that plans for HS2 trains to reach East Midlands Parkway station had also been scrapped.
In his speech, Sunak announced more money for local lines in the north, calling it “Network North”, upgrading the line between Birmingham and Manchester, but this is unlikely to persuade many in the region that they haven’t been left behind in the transport stakes. He also said the £36bn saved by scrapping the line would be spent on “hundreds” of road and bus projects.
He said: “We need better transport connections in the north – a new Network North. This will be our priority, our focus, our project. HS2 is a perfect example of the old consensus. I say to those that backed the process in the first place that the facts have changed, and the best thing to do is have the courage to change direction.”
He added: “I say this to Andy Street: I know we have different views on Hs2 , but we can work together to make this work and have more capacity between London, Birmingham and Manchester.
“I think our plan is simply a better long-term plan of investment of £36bn of taxpayer’s money.”
Street, the West Midlands Mayor, said earlier in the week that he “wouldn’t let HS2 go without a fight”. Later, he said he wouldn’t resign from his post.
There was anger from Scott Knowles, the chief executive of the East Midlands Chamber.
He said: “Businesses in the East Midlands are exasperated at the HS2 saga that has been playing out for over a decade now and this latest embarrassing U-turn is another nail in the coffin for the Government’s levelling up mantra, which shows little sign of arriving in our region.
“While lots of the discussion today will be about the impact on Manchester and other parts of the North, the East Midlands continues to be bottom of the pile when it comes to public transport investment.
“Much like the trains travelling on our Victorian rail infrastructure, we find ourselves once again at a standstill, far away from the destination we want to reach and with next to no idea how we’re supposed to get there.
“Rail in our region has been a political hot potato for decades – we are still waiting for Midland Main Line electrification to be delivered and plans for the HS2 Eastern Leg were scaled back in the Integrated Rail Plan, resulting in areas like Chesterfield, Staveley and Toton losing out on significant economic regeneration benefits.
“At a time when we need to demonstrate to the rest of the world that we’re a country with big ambition, there is instead a complete inability to deliver major infrastructure projects, as the chopping and changing of Government administrations is reflected in policy indecision.
“The East Midlands is a world-class producer of products. This demands a world-class transport infrastructure to get these goods and services across the country, and around the globe.
“This announcement damages confidence and has real-world impacts in terms of job creation and business investment, not to mention job retention among the numerous East Midlands businesses that play a key role in the HS2 supply chain.
“Government is failing one of its basic principles – to use economic policy that creates an environment in which business can thrive, invest and create jobs. Forget levelling up – it feels like we are being levelled down in the East Midlands. Again.”
Sir John Peace, chairman of Midlands Connect, said: “We are disappointed and disheartened by the HS2 announcement.
“We must not start from scratch, we must work at pace to deliver HS2 Phase 1 all the way to Euston. There are also lessons to be learnt from the HS2 story so far.
“The Midlands Rail Hub and road programmes including the A5 which have been announced today resonate with us, these are our transformational East-West priorities for the region, which we recommended and have been progressing with Government.
“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.
“We will now work, like we always do, cross-party and in an open and collaborative way with all involved.”