CGI aerial view of HS2 viaducts over a river in rural England

UK Government faces backlash over HS2 uncertainty

Maybe one day, maybe never. HS2 reaches a watershed with the UK government about to announce further revisions HS2

The High Speed Rail Group (HSRG), a consortium of industry stakeholders, has issued a stern response amidst growing speculation surrounding the fate of phase two of Britain’s High-Speed 2 (HS2) project. Currently the line is being built between London and Birmingham. However, reports emerged suggesting that there were plans to scrap the multi-billion pound project’s route north from Birmingham to Manchester. These plans were presented to UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his Chancellor Jeremy Hunt under the covert codename ‘Project Redwood’.

Speculation is rife that the UK government will make a definitive annoucement this week on the validity of the Birmingham to Manchester leg of the HS2 project. Media in the UK disclosed that documents outlining the abandonment of the northern rail route were drafted, adding fuel to the ongoing debate over the future of HS2.

Further investigations revealed that construction of the line, which is vastly over budget, was being prolonged in an effort to spread the cost – a strategy that has been widely criticised. The Government has come under further fire for failing to explicitly commit to delivering the high-speed rail line to Manchester, a topic that garnered attention in the House of Commons, amid other questions raised about the disruption caused in some constituencies.

Jobs, investment, and economic growth HS2 can offer

Reacting to the press comment claiming that progress beyond the London – Birmingham core route was on the brink of being cancelled, the High Speed Rail Group addressed the mounting concerns, emphasising the potentially dire consequences of halting the project. The industry and business group, which is keenly supportive of the project, issued a statement calling for clarity and resolve to complete the line. “The backlash following the Government’s indecision on HS2 was inevitable”, said their statement. “[It is more so] given the impact any cancellation will have upon the 30,000 people working on the project, as well as on the millions of people across the North and the Midlands.”

A computer generated image of the HS2 station at Piccadilly in Manchester showing the large plaza and the barrel roof design
HS2 Manchester Piccadilly station. A CGI of things to come … or perhaps not. We’ll find out this week … or perhaps not.

A spokesperson underscored the economic significance of the project, stressing that investment in improved connectivity across the UK is poised to stimulate economic growth. “Only by delivering high-speed rail right across the north, can we unlock all of the jobs, investment, and economic growth HS2 can offer”, they claimed. The High Speed Rail Group has further called upon the Government to provide clarity and urged them to heed the voices of the North and the Midlands, who stand to benefit from the widespread economic advantages that the project promises. Recent polling carried out by YouGov – a market research bureau – indicated that support for the project would diminish significantly if the line to Manchester were not built.

General election campaign has already begun

There is no doubt that the UK government is under significant fiscal pressure. The HS2 project, with a price tag likely to exceed one hundred billion pounds (116 billion euros) is an easy target to help balance the books. However, abandoning the project would punch a huge hole in the policy of ‘levelling up’ – a suite of government initiatives, intended to help redress the negative economic balance between the North and the Midlands and the far more affluent London and South East of England.

Despite mixed feelings about the potential disruption that the construction phase would bring, there has been widespread dismay at the uncertainty surrounding HS2 Phase Two, which has already been pruned down.

HS2 Train Visualisation
Reaching the buffers? There has been widespread anger at the prospect of HS2 being abandoned north of Birmingham. There has also been widespread anger at the prospect of HS2 going north of Manchester. 

The project has been beset by cost overruns and government-led cutbacks, already killing off a planned route to Nottingham, Sheffield and Leeds – the bulk of the so-called ‘Eastern Leg’. Recently it was announced that the planned terminal at Euston in central London was put on hold, and the line would in fact terminate at Old Oak Common, a vast new railway complex under construction in the west London borough of Ealing.

The concerns of the High Speed Rail Group are compounded by the fact that a general election in the UK is only a year away, at most. Many commentators have already speculated that campaigning has begun, and the ruling Conservative party will seek to make as many popular moves as possible between now and then. That is expected to result in an announcement this week. A high-speed, high profile cost saving programme may be just what HS2 does not need.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is UK correspondent for RailTech.com and Railfreight.com

Add your comment

characters remaining.

Log in through one of the following social media partners to comment.