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Thursday, September 21, 2023

Fresh speculation surrounds HS2’s northern section

The future of HS2’s northern extension has come under scrutiny as Downing Street yesterday (Thursday 14 September) refused to confirm whether the government remained committed to extending the line to Manchester.

The latest development comes after a meeting on Wednesday 13 September between Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and chancellor Jeremy Hunt to identify potential cost savings.

An official was photographed carrying a document relating to the meeting, which included a “savings table” showing the costs of each part of the scheme north of Birmingham. The story was first reported by The Independent.

In a Westminster briefing with journalists yesterday, when quizzed on whether the northern leg of the high-speed project could be shelved, the prime minister’s spokesperson said the government needed to balance the interests of “passengers and taxpayers”.

Asked whether Mr Sunak was committed to the line going to Manchester, the spokesman did not confirm whether it would, saying: “We are committed to HS2, to the project.”

With its Leeds leg cut two years ago, and its section between Birmingham and Crewe delayed by two years, the speculation brings further concern, if not surprise, for the north, whose leaders have reacted angrily. Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, accused ministers of “making the north pay for their failure” to contain costs and make progress.

A spokesperson for the High Speed Rail Group said scrapping phase two would be a “disaster” for the North of England and the Midlands and the “ultimate U-turn”.

“The government needs to kill the speculation and make its intentions clear, and it ought to commit clearly and unambiguously to delivering the project as planned,” they said.

“The 30,000 people delivering HS2 deserve this. Our future generations deserve this. The North and Midlands deserve this.”

Image credit: HS2

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