The UK government has declined to provide assurance about the future of the HS2 rail line between Birmingham and Manchester. Downing Street spokespersons have indicated that ministers will need to consider the interests of both passengers and taxpayers before making a decision. The concerns primarily revolve around rising costs and project delays.
While reiterating commitment to the HS2 project, the spokesperson did not confirm whether the line would extend to Manchester. The government, however, hinted at the possibility of a delay by stating that they were exploring the option of “rephasing” the project.
The potential uncertainty surrounding HS2 has raised concerns amongst regional leaders. Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham highlighted the risk of the North of England bearing the brunt of the cost while being left with outdated infrastructure. This contradicts the government’s goal of reducing economic disparities between regions.
HS2 has been an emblematic project for the government’s “levelling-up” agenda, aimed at addressing regional inequalities. Project costs have significantly exceeded the original budget of £33bn set a decade ago when the work commenced. The original plan was for HS2 to connect London and Birmingham before splitting into two lines towards Manchester and Leeds.
However, plans for the eastern leg from Birmingham to Leeds were curtailed, with the line only reaching the East Midlands. Scrapping phase two would be disastrous for the North of England and the Midlands, according to a spokesperson from the High Speed Rail Group. They urged the government to be transparent about their intentions and to commit unequivocally to delivering the project as planned, emphasizing the importance of the project to the regions involved.