Rishi Sunak , to limit HS2 , may announce a series of transportation improvements for Northern England, possibly including expediting the high-speed connection between Manchester and Leeds. This move aims to mitigate the political backlash concerning the future of HS2.
Government sources indicate that despite the strong opposition and concerns within the Tory party, Prime Minister Boris Johnson intends to proceed with the proposal to eliminate the HS2 link between Birmingham and Manchester. Critics fear this decision could undermine the government’s commitment to “levelling up” the country.
However, these sources suggest that ministers are considering enhancing Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) concurrently with increasing funding for bus services and trams in the region. One source commented, “The different components of the plan need to progress together.”
Prominent figures within the rail industry argue that scrapping the multibillion-pound HS2 project would be ill-advised. They contend that NPR relies on the Manchester link of HS2 and assert that the government’s integrated rail review lacks any viable alternatives.
Rishi Sunak might accelerate an announcement, originally slated for the autumn budget, to as early as this week. Nevertheless, Northern Tories argue that scrapping the northern leg of HS2 before their party conference in Manchester would be highly embarrassing.
Government sources, however, suggest that Sunak is unlikely to postpone the project. They emphasize that postponing the multibillion-pound project and shifting costs to a future parliament would provide little financial benefit because experts do not anticipate cost increases until the 2030s.
Defense Secretary Grant Shapps
Defense Secretary Grant Shapps indicated a potential alteration to the “sequencing” and “pace” of HS2 due to its escalating costs. He stated that reassessing the viability of the entire rail project would be reasonable.
Despite this uncertainty, senior Conservatives believe that postponing the northern section would contradict Sunak’s goal of making bold decisions and distancing himself from Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Rishi Sunak avoided directly addressing whether they would construct the northern leg from Birmingham to Manchester during a recent interview. He emphasized the government’s commitment to “levelling up” and spreading opportunities across the country.
Numerous warnings have arisen against canceling the HS2 project, with former Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and David Cameron, business leaders, and the Labour mayors of Greater Manchester and London, Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan, voicing their concerns.
Burnham and the leader of Manchester city council jointly appealed to Sunak in a letter, emphasizing the importance of modernizing rail infrastructure in the north.
Lord Adonis, the architect of HS2 for the previous Labour government, argued that canceling the Manchester extension would lead to higher costs in the future. He highlighted the inconsistency of having a high-speed line from Acton to Birmingham that does not serve the north.
The decision of Rishi Sunak on HS2 aligns with a report from the Policy Exchange thinktank in November 2022, which Andrew Gilligan, a former transport adviser, authored. Gilligan recommended canceling all HS2 parts where construction had not yet started and was believed to be informally advising the government.