Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has once again refrained from providing a definite answer regarding the fate of the Birmingham to Manchester segment of the HS2 high-speed rail project.
When questioned by BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg about whether HS2 would extend to Manchester, Sunak responded, “We’re actively progressing with the project, and I won’t comment on speculative discussions.”
Escalating costs have sparked increasing uncertainty surrounding the second phase of HS2, connecting Birmingham to Manchester. The first phase, linking London and Birmingham, is already underway.
The HS2 project is viewed as integral to the government’s commitment to “leveling up” the country, a promise that has garnered support from both the Labour Party and some members of the Conservative Party.
Over the weekend, former Prime Minister Theresa May joined the chorus of Conservative voices opposing any downscaling of the project.
Unions have called for an emergency meeting to discuss the future of HS2, and concerns have been raised that potential cuts to the project would leave the North with an outdated rail network.
Andy Street, the Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands, has criticized the idea, and London Mayor Sadiq Khan warned it could diminish the UK’s reputation.
However, Sunak firmly rejected these criticisms, asserting the government’s unwavering commitment to leveling up the entire nation. He highlighted a levelling-up fund for 55 towns and emphasized the influx of billions of pounds in investment, leading to job creation across the country.
Transport Minister Richard Holden added that it was prudent for the government to assess the impact of the Manchester leg on the project’s overall cost and stated that detailed analysis was ongoing.
When asked if the government couldn’t currently confirm the Manchester extension, he affirmed, “Exactly. There is a lot of detailed work going on.”
The uncertainty surrounding HS2’s future has persisted for weeks, with the Prime Minister and other ministers declining to provide clear answers about any potential project reductions.
Many anticipated an announcement before the start of the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, but it seems that No 10 intends to proceed without clarifying its stance.
A senior government source commented, “We are in Manchester, but we are addressing the entire nation.”
With no announcement expected this week, the fate of HS2 may not be clarified until Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement, scheduled for November 22.
HS2 has faced numerous challenges, including delays, cost overruns, and reductions in scope. The planned eastern leg, connecting Birmingham and Leeds, was scrapped in late 2021.
In March, the government announced a delay of at least two years for the construction of the line between Birmingham and Crewe, extending to Manchester.
The last official cost estimate for HS2, excluding the canceled eastern section, amounted to approximately £71 billion, based on 2019 prices and not accounting for subsequent increases in material and labor costs.
The potential abandonment of the Manchester extension has also raised concerns about other plans to enhance rail services in northern England, such as the Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) scheme, which aims to improve connections between Liverpool, Manchester, and Leeds through a combination of new and upgraded rail lines.
These plans involve a section of the HS2 line from Manchester Airport to Manchester Piccadilly, as well as upgrades to Manchester Piccadilly station.
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has warned that scrapping the HS2 extension to Manchester could undermine the NPR scheme, potentially impacting the entire region’s transportation network.
Last Updated: 02 October 23