Northern Powerhouse chief warns government over scrapping HS2 scheme

Concerns have been raised over claims the Government could scrap the second phase of the HS2 rail project, which would hit many Northern towns and cities.

A report in The Independent today (September 14) claimed Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt met yesterday to discuss the possibility of ditching the second phase in the face of rapidly rising costs, and clamour from Tory MPs to find cash for tax cuts heading into the General Election.

The Government has already spent £2.3bn on stage two of the high-speed railway from Birmingham to Manchester, but it is claimed that ditching the Northern phase would save up to £34bn.

Soaring costs have already resulted in a planned eastern spur to Leeds now set to stop in the East Midlands. And work for HS2’s link into London’s Euston station is on hold.

The Government’s own infrastructure watchdog warned in July that the scheme was “unachievable”.

A Government spokesperson said: “Spades are already in the ground on the HS2 programme, and we remain focused on delivering that.”

Legislation for phase 2b of the scheme, into Manchester, is currently in the report stage in Parliament.

Henri Murison, chief executive of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said “Any decision to curtail this project any further would do serious damage to the Government’s relationship with the business community, both Northern-based businesses and inward investors, who have made long term investment decisions based on previous promises.

Henri Murison

“Cancelling Phase 2b would also make it impossible to improve east-west connectivity across the North as promised in the Integrated Rail plan.

“It would remove the most critical remaining section of Northern Powerhouse Rail between Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Airport which is vital for getting passengers from Liverpool across the Pennines.”

He added: “Given that Phase 1, the most expensive bit of the route, is already under way and that the strongest benefit-cost ratios are found in the Northern sections, it makes no sense to stop now.

“Our country’s inability to deliver infrastructure, whether it’s hospitals or rail lines, is a huge problem for raising productivity long term and our global reputation.

“The shadow Chancellor has already committed to treating day to day spending differently to capital spending to support long term economic growth – the Government should do the same.”

Andy Burnham, Greater Manchester Mayor, said on Twitter: It’s coming up 10 years since Osborne’s “Northern Powerhouse” speech and the Tories are set to scrap the last of his rail pledges. The result? The southern half of England gets a modern rail system and the North left with Victorian infrastructure. Levelling up? My a**e.

“The Government is guilty of gross mismanagement of HS2 and of making the North pay for their failure. Once again, passengers here are seen as second-class citizens. It’s time for an honest conversation about what they WILL do for the North and let voters decide if it’s enough.”