view of Manchetser Central conference venue with the old station clock overhead

HS2 decision clock ticking for UK Prime Minister at political conference

view of Manchetser Central conference venue with the old station clock overhead image Manchester Central news feed

Rishi Sunak, the prime minister of the British government, has a decision to make. It’s one he has been studiously avoiding in a barrage of media interviews. Might he announce that the troubled HS2 will see its Phase 2b cancelled, and the high speed rail project will not, after all, reach Manchester? That would be bold, given that he will be in that Northern English city all week and has already faced a front of northern civic leaders, united in their demand that he do exactly the opposite, despite spiralling costs and missed deadlines.

As the ruling Conservative Party’s annual conference unfolds at the historic Manchester Central, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faces a crucial decision. Beneath the barrel roof of the venue repurposed from a bustling railway terminus, the wait could be over. Speculation is rife about potential cutbacks to the UK’s high-speed rail project, with Phase 2b – the crucial link connecting Birmingham and Manchester – hanging in the balance. It could be the greatest triumph or the greatest mistake of his premiership – entirely dependent on your viewpoint.

Pivotal for economic growth

Manchester Central, once a testament to the city’s industrial might, now stands as a symbol of Manchester’s transformation into a dynamic modern city. Against this backdrop, Prime Minister Sunak finds himself grappling with the irony of potentially cancelling a railway project while situated in this evocative venue. Cheers or jeers may greet him, whatever he decided – or indeed if he decides nothing at all, and leaves all that to his chancellor Jeremy Hunt and his Autumn Statement – which will be made in the comparatively less contentious surroundings of the House of Commons in London.

HS2 – or HS too late to turn back now? The UK Prime Minister will be under intense pressure this week to decide which way to jump. Image HS2 Ltd

The proposed cutbacks to HS2 Phase 2b have ignited intense debate both within the Conservative Party and the broader public. Advocates argue that the high-speed rail project is pivotal for economic growth, job creation, and improved connectivity between major cities, particularly in the north of England which is perennially perceived as economically disadvantaged. Critics, on the other hand, raise concerns over the project’s cost, environmental impact, and alternative uses for allocated funds which many say could be better deployed across the existing railway network.

Immaculate conceptions

Addressing party members and stakeholders, Prime Minister Sunak will undoubtedly acknowledge the weight of the decision. That is if he indeed has the platform to raise the matter. In Manchester, the HS2 project represents the resilience and adaptability of the city – once blighted by industrial decline but reborn as a creative and innovative hub. Some say the HS2 project’s fate is a pivotal moment for the nation. The fate of Phase 2b is far from sealed. This decision, which could be announced later this week, holds significant political implications, potentially shaping the government’s stance on large-scale infrastructure projects, and not least the party’s re-election prospects in 2024.

The huge security operation that accompanies the conference has kept protesters and supporters at arms’ length. Nevertheless, legitimate lobby groups willing to pay the conference fees, can have their say from within the hall. The juxtaposition of Manchester Central’s historic railway heritage and the HS2 dilemma underscores the dilemma of governance in modern day Britain. Anyone writing off the continued importance of the railways need only spend a moment in the Prime Minister’s immaculately cobbled shoes. Sunak’s decision will dictate the course of a project of national significance and, in this historic venue, will carry a resonance that will reverberate around its equally immaculate roof.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is UK correspondent for and

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