Sunak cancels HS2, promises ‘Network North’ consolation prize
After weeks of speculation, the Prime Minister confirmed that the high-speed rail project will only go as far as Birmingham.
Instead, Rishi Sunak pledged that the £36bn earmarked for the remaining Northern leg will be reinvested in hundreds of projects to build up transport infrastructure outside London. Speaking to a crowd at the Conservative Party Conference, Sunak dubbed the project “Network North”.
“No other government has ever developed a more ambitious scheme for Northern transport than our Network North,” Sunak said. “This is the right way to level up.”
- READ MORE: What is Network North?
Under the proposals, Sunak said passengers would be able to travel from Manchester to Bradford in 30 minutes, to Sheffield in 42 minutes, and to Hull in 84. He also pledged to work with local leaders to deliver a £12bn line between Manchester and Liverpool.
Sunak justified the cancellation of HS2 by describing it as a “long-running saga” of repeated delays and rising costs.
“The facts have changed,” Sunak said, addressing those who had initially supported the project. “The right thing to do when the facts change is to have the courage to change direction.”
‘Levelling up is dead’
The ditching of the Northern section of HS2 came as a surprise to nobody, following weeks of speculation that Sunak had been spooked by soaring costs.
Before Sunak even took to the podium on Wednesday, Manchester City Council Leader Bev Craig made her feelings known about the looming HS2 announcement.
“Just a reminder, the Govts [sic] own analysis showed an integrated HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail would: add £9bn to GMs economy each year, add £24bn a year to the North’s economy, create 96,000 jobs…” she tweeted.
“Levelling up is dead.”
Just a reminder, the Govts own analysis showed an integrated HS2 and NPR would:
– Add £9bn to GMs economy each year
– Add £24bn a year to the Norths economy
– Create 96,000 jobs
– Improve capacity and connectivity
– Close the productivity gap with London
Levelling up is dead.
— Bev Craig (@bevcraig) October 4, 2023
According to Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, the Prime Minister had decided to nix HS2 without consulting with either himself or Craig first. At a press conference on Tuesday evening, Burnham said: “People are meeting in rooms yards from where we’re standing now about decisions that will affect the future of the North of England for the rest of the century.
“But nobody in government deems that they should pick up the phone to the leader of Manchester city council or to myself… I don’t think that is really any way to treat people,” Burnham continued.
“End this shambles, you can’t take decisions of this magnitude in the way that you’re doing.”
Burnham and Craig had tried to negotiate with Westminster to get the section of HS2 between Manchester Airport and Manchester Piccadilly built, while shelving the airport to Birmingham section.
This would at least allow Northern Powerhouse Rail, the East-West link connecting major Northern cities, to be built.
A host of Manchester companies including Bruntwood and OBI, as well as universities and venues, also wrote a letter to the Prime Minister in a bid to convince him not to scrap the line.
“In deciding on the future of HS2 you hold the future prosperity of the North and Midlands in your hands,” the letter said.
Scrapping HS2 would be “a major act of economic self-sabotage and damage [Manchester’s] international standing as a place to do business”, the signees continued.
Reaction following Sunak’s speech was overwhelmingly negative from those in the North. Manchester City Council Leader Cllr Bev Craig said she was prepared to work with government on the Network North plans, but remarked that much of what she had heard so far was “rehashed”. She also urged her fellow Northerners to approach Network North with caution to ensure they weren’t “hoodwinked” by empty promises.