Home » No surprise but bitterness as Sunak scraps North’s HS2

No surprise but bitterness as Sunak scraps North’s HS2

by Mark Cantrell
Prime minister Rishi Sunak arrives in Downing Street, 25 October 2022. Picture by Lauren Hurley/Number 10 Downing Street. Crown Copyright

The prime minister Rishi Sunak has ended the speculation and brought down the axe on the Northern leg of HS2.

In a speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester today, the prime minister effectively told his audience – and by extension his Northern hosts – exactly what they expected.

Sunak confirmed that the Northern leg of HS2 connecting Birmingham to Manchester will be scrapped, though the connection between Old Oak Common and London Euston will go ahead.

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

He added later: “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.”

The North remembers

Reports last night had already made clear where Sunak was going with this, following days of intense political speculation and recrimination.

Indeed, last night, a bitterly disappointed Andy Burnham – metro mayor of Greater Manchester posted on X (formerly Twitter) to say: “The North is being betrayed and people here won’t forget it.”

HS2, of course, was billed with great potential for the regions – the North especially – and the nation as a whole, shortening journey times, boosting capacity, and providing tremendous economic benefits.

So, its not simply a railway line that’s been axed, in effect.

However, as if aware of the optics of his decision – scrapping the Manchester leg of HS2 at a venue in the heart of the city itself, on the eve of his departure – the prime minister attempted to offer some solace.

As he told his audience, the money saved by wielding the axe – some £36bn, he said – will be re-invested in new transport projects in the North, in the Midlands, and across the country.

“More than four million people in cities in the North cannot currently reach their city centre by public transport within half an hour,” Sunak said. “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 £36bn 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.”


Lord McLoughlin, chair of Transport for the North (TfN), said: “The cancelling of the northern leg of HS2 is naturally disappointing. It’s undeniable that this will be seen by many as a missed opportunity for the region, and the country as a whole. Only last week, northern business and political leaders came together at our TfN Board to speak with ‘one voice’ to reaffirm our position that HS2 and NPR in full are vital to truly transform the North.

“The announcement of investment in the region is obviously welcome. And we will look to work with government to fully understand the implications for the North of the proposals set out today in the Prime Minister’s speech, and consult with our Board on the best way forward in light of this new change of policy. There are still quite a few areas that require further clarification from the Department for Transport, which we will be seeking from them.”

In a statement, RICS said: “The RICS manifesto called for investment in regional rail infrastructure, and we look forward to more detail on Network North. Investors will be looking for certainty and sustainability, and plans should be developed with regional communities.  Key to this will also be any further plans to address the housing shortage.

“As facts on climate change have not changed and neither has the need to support the next generation, we are hopeful that the new network will embrace sustainable practices.  RICS and our members are equipped to support this, and we highlight our recent launch of our world-leading standard for consistent and accurate carbon measurement (Whole Life Carbon Assessment standard).

“RICS has long called for infrastructure that supports communities and growth led by employment. Our latest construction survey has however continued to show skills shortages in construction, and the skills agenda will be critical to delivery of these projects. Industry must take a multifaceted approach to address the skills crisis and ensure greater diversity, equity and inclusion.”

“RICS has long called for infrastructure that supports communities and growth led by employment. Our latest construction survey has however continued to show skills shortages in construction, and the skills agenda will be critical to delivery of these projects. Industry must take a multifaceted approach to address the skills crisis and ensure greater diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Quicker to walk

James Forrester, managing director of Newcastle-based property developer, Stripe Property Group, said: “There will be no surprise at yet another government U-turn and more broken promises that will see many businesses and homeowners alike suffer, as a result.

“Of course, bold plans remain to connect the country, but it’s fair to say that you’d be better off walking from London to Manchester instead of waiting on this government to deliver on its word. Yet another example of Westminster prioritising the prosperity of the capital, with little to no regard about the rest of us that form the United Kingdom.”

Bradley Post, managing director of finance experts, RIFT said: “In recent years, we’ve seen how the economic prosperity of the UK isn’t solely refined to the boundaries of the capital and a number of regional powerhouses have emerged thanks to commitments from big business to call them home.

“However, the scrapping of HS2 will come as a real blow, removing a vital infrastructural lifeline that would have ensured the longevity of their economic success.

“What’s more, it will come as devastating news to the 30,000 UK professionals working across a myriad of sectors in order to deliver the required infrastructure. People who could be essentially out of work at a time when the cost of living remains extremely high and with Christmas right around the corner.”

Director of Benham and Reeves, Marc von Grundherr, said: “Plans for a Euston development zone are sure to help revive the area and bring about a boost to the local property market in the process.

“However, this will bring little comfort to those outside of London who will rightfully argue that the capital has benefited greatly already from the likes of HS1 and the Elizabeth Line. Talk about cutting the North off at the knees.”

Co-founder and chief executive of Searchland, Mitchell Fasanya, said: “Today’s news will be hugely frustrating for the many developers who had already invested time and money based on the promised delivery of HS2 and the anticipation of a spike in market activity within locations set to benefit.

“It’s certainly a case of back to the drawing board now. Although, of course, the ones who are really losing out are those who would have benefited from the regeneration and delivery of new housing within their local areas.”

Levelling down

The TUC’s general secretary Paul Nowak said: “This a huge act of levelling down – however Rishi Sunak tries to spin it. The Northern leg of HS2 would have created thousands of good jobs and boosted growth across the North and the Midlands.

“But these economic benefits have been squandered by the Conservatives’ gross incompetence. This failure is on them and them alone. The public will be rightly sceptical about more promises on transport investment for the north and the Midlands. Who can trust the Tories to deliver on anything?”

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