Five Labour mayors have come together to express their concerns about Rishi Sunak’s plans to axe or delay the northern leg of HS2, citing potential economic damage to the country. The mayors – Sadiq Khan, Andy Burnham, Tracy Brabin, Oliver Coppard, and Steve Rotheram – issued a joint plea to the prime minister, warning that failing to deliver HS2 in full would result in outdated transport infrastructure in the North.
Their plea comes at a time when reports suggest the government is considering scrapping the Birmingham-Manchester leg of HS2 due to the soaring costs associated with the project. This decision has faced significant political backlash, with senior Tories such as Boris Johnson and George Osborne cautioning against “mutilating” the project.
In response to the concerns raised, Mr. Sunak and Mr. Hunt are reportedly considering options to address the backlash, including delaying the Birmingham to Manchester route by up to seven years and bringing forward Northern Powerhouse Rail between Manchester and Leeds. Despite the potential delay, Andy Burnham has suggested that he could be open to it if there is a commitment to building an east-west route and completing a section of HS2 between Manchester Airport and Manchester Piccadilly.
There are indications that some Tories in the influential Northern Research Group may accept a delay to the northern leg of HS2 if it means a commitment to east-west rail projects, known as Northern Powerhouse Rail. Both HS2 and east-west connectivity across the north of England are seen as drivers of growth, although the ideal scenario would be to build both.
Transport for the North, the government-backed body, has also passed a motion urging the government to commit to HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail in full.
It is important to consider the economic implications of these decisions. Ending the project in Birmingham would put 8,000 jobs at risk and undermine investor confidence. Furthermore, scrapping the Manchester leg of HS2 has been characterized as a “gross act of vandalism” that would abandon the north and Midlands.
While discussions continue regarding the future of HS2 and its associated costs, it is clear that there are significant concerns from both the Labour mayors and Tories about the potential consequences of delaying or scrapping the project. The focus now lies on finding a solution that balances economic feasibility with the need for modern and efficient transportation infrastructure.