Industry responds to northern leg of HS2 no longer moving ahead

Posted: 4 October 2023 | | No comments yet

Following the UK Prime Minister confirming that Phase 2 of HS2 will be cancelled, the UK rail industry has voiced its disappointment.

Industry responds to northern leg of HS2 no longer moving ahead

Credit: HS2 - An artist's impression of an HS2 train from the side.

On 4 October 2023, during the closing speech to the 2023 Conservative Party conference, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confirmed that Phase 2 of HS2 – referred to as the ‘northern leg’ – would no longer be moving ahead, after weeks of speculation. Originally planned to continue on to Manchester, the high-speed rail line will now end in Birmingham. 

In an official statement that was published following the conference, Sunak has said, “Today, we are announcing some changes on our approach to HS2.

“We will deliver HS2 between Birmingham and Euston as planned, but we will extend it no further.

“Instead, we will take every pound that would have been spent extending HS2 and invest over £36 billion into Network North – a new programme of transport improvements that will benefit far more people, in far more places, far quicker.

“Costs for HS2 have more than doubled since forecast – phase one was originally meant to cost £20 billion but latest estimates are up to £45 billion.

“And the project has been repeatedly delayed.

“It was supposed to be operational by 2026 and opened in full by 2033, but now the line to Manchester is forecast to be opened in 2041, in 18 years’ time.

“And the pandemic has completely changed the way we travel. While road travel has recovered to pre-pandemic levels, train journeys are still down by 20 per cent.

“Every region will have as much or more transport investment as a result of this decision.

“More than four million people in cities in the North cannot currently reach their city centre by public transport within half an hour.

“This is detrimental to our productivity and economic growth.

“Yet the current HS2 project is preventing us from spending on the forms of transport that matter most to people.

“By scrapping it, every penny from the Northern leg of HS2 will go to the North and every penny from the Midlands leg to the Midlands.

“Rather than just connecting Birmingham and Manchester, we will invest £36 billion in hundreds of projects in towns, cities and rural areas across our whole country, and in roads, rail and buses – investment on a truly unprecedented scale that will drive economic growth and provide jobs.

“If we want to change the country – and build a better future for our children – these changes to our transport system are absolutely essential.

“For too long we’ve been getting our transport wrong, meaning our great towns, cities and rural areas are not achieving their potential. That has to change.

“Our new vision will focus on the forms of transport that matter most to people, drive the best growth and, importantly, that truly levels up our country.”

UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak

The UK rail industry and other key stakeholders were quick to respond

Mayor of the West Midlands

In response to Sunak’s announcement, Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, posted the following statement via X (formerly Twitter):

House of Commons’ Transport Committee

The House of Commons’ Transport Committee Chair, Iain Stewart, comments on HS2 and the Prime Minister’s announcements: “There will be costs and lost opportunities in not proceeding with HS2 in full. There will also be significant benefits delivered by the new rail and road projects that the [Prime Minister] has announced.

“The Transport Select Committee will scrutinise in detail these announcements and, crucially, look at how the government will assess their deliverability.

“This work will include the impacts that these announcements might have on the wider road and bus networks, and an examination of how they fit into the government’s strategic policy objectives for the country’s transport services, which is at the heart of another of our current inquiries.

“An important role of a cross-party select committee is to take the time to dispassionately dig into and appraise the detail of changes of policy, and the strong views that there will be. I shall be discussing with my colleagues on the Committee our programme for doing this.”

Railway Industry Association

Following the news, Darren Caplan, Chief Executive of the Railway Industry Association, responded: “Many of the Railway Industry Association’s members will be extremely disappointed by the government’s proposal announced [on 4 October 2023] by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to scrap HS2 between Birmingham and Manchester. This follows the previous scrapping of the Eastern Leg to Leeds, the Golborne Link to enable high-speed trains to get to and from Scotland, and the ‘pausing’ of the Old Oak Common to Euston stretch.

“The Government cites cost as its main reason for scrapping Phase 2, yet it should be remembered that this was the government’s own scheme, built to its own specifications, and that the chopping and changing of the scope and timing of the project – adding considerable cost and delay – was entirely of the government’s own making. Every time the scheme is rescoped, it increases the cost.

“Scrapping HS2 Phase 2 is simply unnecessary and squanders the full benefits of Phase 1. The government can work with metro mayors, the railway industry, rail suppliers and other stakeholders, to agree a cost-effective way forward, including encouraging private investment to take pressure off the public purse.

“Today’s nuclear option is defeatist and sends a terrible signal to potential overseas investors that the UK simply cannot deliver large national transport infrastructure schemes. For companies with existing contracts, the implications of the Prime Minister’s proposal to release £6.5 billion from the Euston site and create a development zone are particularly unclear. Already, multinational railway businesses will be making plans to rationalise their workforces and investments in a way that will be detrimental to the country’s rail supply sector specifically and UK plc more widely. This also blows a hole in the government’s levelling-up and decarbonisation agendas – none of the replacement regional schemes referred to will have the same impact of building HS2 in full.

“Going forward, the government needs to safeguard the full HS2 route for future generations, and pass the relevant Bill in the King’s Speech [in November 2023]. It needs to work to rebuild trust with the railway industry; for example, providing reassurance that the £36 billion investment it mentioned in regional transport projects announced [on 4 October 2023], such as Midlands Rail Hub and the electrification of the North Wales mainline, will go ahead following the short-notice cancellations of HS2’s Phase 2, Eastern Leg, Golborne Link and the Old Oak Common to Euston ‘pausing’. And the government needs to redouble its efforts to deliver certainty in rail by pushing on with rail reform, publishing the Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline for the first time in four years, setting out a plan for rolling stock, including a pipeline for new and refurbished trains, explaining its plans to decarbonise UK rail, including a rolling programme of electrification and fleet orders of hydrogen and battery trains, and give more freedom to bring forward private investment.

“Whilst we in the railway industry are, of course, concerned at the announcement made by the Prime Minister [on 4 October 2023], we now need to ensure that the HS2 Phase 2 scheme can be taken on by future generations, that there will be rebuilt trust in government rail announcements given the recent history, and provide more certainty generally, to enable rail businesses to plan their workforces and resources in the weeks and months ahead.”

High Speed Rail Group

A statement from the High Speed Rail Group reads: “Today’s news is a devastating blow to our industry and our whole economy. For 15 years, we have worked with the government to develop this project – their project – taking it from a concept to construction. Companies have invested in people, skills and equipment on the back of it, with some even relocating in anticipation of it being completed.

“It is true that the costs of the project have risen over those 15 years. In recent years, inflation has been rampant in the UK economy, and the construction sector has been impacted far more than most. But the principal cause of any real term cost increases lies in the chopping and changing of the project’s scope, with today’s news being the fourth major change by government in just three years. As any project manager will tell you, the cheapest way to deliver is against a fixed scope without constant changes. This is the biggest and most damaging U-turn in the history of UK infrastructure.

“What we have now is a plan for a railway that will not deliver the transformational benefits that the north of England needs. Indeed, the solution proposed by the Prime Minister is a recipe for disaster. Merging HS2 trains onto existing lines at Birmingham will create a huge bottleneck, akin to the M40 merging onto an A-road and then a country lane – rather than the M6. Rail connectivity to the north will be worse than it is today.

“That’s why it is inconceivable that HS2 will not eventually reach Manchester. Today, the industry recommits to delivering the first phase as efficiently as it can, whilst continuing to make the case that this should be just the beginning of a network that reaches Manchester, Leeds and many more cities. We stand ready to work on those future developments.

“The proposed investment through ‘Network North’ is an interesting one and, of course, welcome. But cancelling Phase 2 of HS2 frees up just £1 billion to £3 billion in the next five years, meaning any improvements are still far over the horizon.

“If we want to truly level up our country, it cannot be a choice between HS2 and other projects. The UK needs 21st century infrastructure, bringing all of its cities closer together. HS2 is the key foundation for that network. Every other major European country has managed to build a high-speed rail network, recognising that it’s a vital part of a modern society and economy for years to come. We’d like to think Britain still could, too.”

Midlands Connect

Commenting on the news that the Prime Minister has cancelled Phase 2 of the HS2 project, 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 [on 4 October 2023] 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 that 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.”

Urban Transport Group

Jason Prince, Director of the Urban Transport Group, said: “Many of our member city regions have designed local transport schemes around the promise of larger infrastructure projects, whether HS2 or otherwise. Our members need the confidence that once schemes are announced, they are delivered. The same logic applies to the raft of transport projects unveiled by the Prime Minister [on 4 October 2023] .

“Fundamentally, transport is about more than simply moving people from A to B. It is about creating economic growth and thriving communities for people to live and work in. This can only happen through certainty of long-term investment.”

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London

Writing on LinkedIn, Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, said: “After weeks of chaos and uncertainty, it’s only right that the PM has finally provided some clarity on the Euston section of HS2.

“It would be an abject failure by Ministers if HS2 didn’t terminate at Euston. Journeys into central London would, absurdly, take longer than they do on existing routes.

“This project is a colossal waste of opportunity. Failure to build HS2 north of Birmingham will not only hold back jobs and growth in the north of England, but limit our ability to connect communities all across the country.”

This page will be updated as more responses are received.