- HS2 Manchester link cancellation concerns.
- Mayor warns of north-south divide.
- Repercussions for Northern rail plans.
The mayor of Greater Manchester has expressed concerns that the cancellation of the HS2 connection between Birmingham and Manchester could “tear the heart” out of plans to improve rail services across northern England if the link is scrapped.
Andy Burnham voiced his worries that removing the extension might create a “north-south divide.”
Speculation has increased as the government has not provided assurance that the line will extend from the Midlands to the North West.
The prime minister has refrained from commenting but emphasized the government’s commitment to leveling regional disparities.
Rishi Sunak stated, “Transport infrastructure is pivotal, encompassing not only major rail initiatives but also local projects like enhancing bus services and addressing potholes, which have a tangible impact on people’s daily lives.”
The high-speed rail project aims to connect London, the Midlands, and the north of England. The initial segment from west London to Birmingham is presently under construction. However, the project has encountered delays, budget overruns, and revisions, including the abandonment of the proposed eastern leg between Birmingham and Leeds in late 2021.
In March, the government declared a minimum two-year delay in constructing the line from Birmingham to Crewe, which ultimately connects to Manchester.
Defence Secretary Grant Shapps, the former Transport Secretary, asserted on Sunday that it would be “foolish” not to reassess HS2 plans given escalating costs. He declined to comment on whether the separate Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) plans for Leeds, Manchester, and Liverpool would proceed if the northern HS2 section were scrapped.
The NPR initiative seeks to expedite connections through a combination of new and upgraded rail lines, with plans to utilize a segment of the HS2 line from Manchester Airport to Manchester Piccadilly in addition to scheduled enhancements to Manchester Piccadilly station.
In a letter to the prime minister, Mr. Burnham and Bev Craig, leader of Manchester City Council, cautioned that scrapping HS2 to Manchester would likely result in NPR’s cancellation. Mr. Burnham asserted that eliminating the HS2 extension to Manchester would “rip the heart” out of NPR and leave the north of England with outdated infrastructure for decades to come.
He also added that it could exacerbate the north-south divide.
In the letter to the prime minister, Mr. Burnham suggested that, if necessary, they would consider prioritizing the northern section of the line, running between Manchester Airport and Manchester Piccadilly, to facilitate the construction of NPR.
Juergen Maier, Vice Chair of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, noted that HS2 and NPR “comprise the same network, sharing the most critical stretch of the route between Manchester Airport and Manchester Piccadilly.”
The annual Conservative Party conference commenced in Manchester on Sunday.
Former Conservative Chancellor George Osborne, in collaboration with Lord Heseltine, criticized the potential cancellation of the HS2 link, labeling it a “significant act of destruction.” They cautioned that scrapping the project would result in “considerable economic self-harm” and abandonment of the North and Midlands.
Lord Heseltine added that it would also harm Britain’s reputation, stating, “The harm to the reputation of a country or government that commits and encourages others to invest in a project purportedly transformational and then abandons it is immeasurable.”