HS2 Northern Section Set to be Scrapped as Concerns Mount Over Cost

The future of the northern section of HS2, the high-speed rail project connecting Birmingham and Manchester, is in doubt as concerns over its escalating cost loom large. Sky News has learned that the prime minister, Boris Johnson, is considering abandoning the project altogether due to the exorbitant expenses and ongoing delays. Additionally, it remains uncertain whether the final section between Old Oak Common in west London and Euston in the capital will proceed as planned. Grant Shapps, the former transport secretary and current head of the Ministry of Defence, spoke to Sky News’ Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips show, implying that there could be modifications to the “sequencing” and “pace” of HS2 due to its skyrocketing price tag.

Shapps expressed concerns about the ever-increasing budgets, emphasizing that “money is not infinite.” He highlighted the necessity for the government to scrutinize the project and determine if it represents an open-ended commitment or if there is a feasible plan for timely and efficient delivery. The government, according to Shapps, feels the responsibility to make sure that taxpayers’ interests are safeguarded. He stated, “There has to be a point where you say, hold on a minute, let’s just take a break here.” Shapps further attributed the need for reassessment to recent unforeseen circumstances, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing war in Ukraine, which have impacted the national budget. He argued that any governing party or opposition claiming that such circumstances should not influence infrastructure spending decisions is unfit to rule the country.

Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, who belongs to the Labour Party, expressed dissatisfaction with the potential scrapping of the northern section of HS2 as he argued that people in the North of England are consistently treated as second-class citizens when it comes to transport infrastructure. Burnham claimed that such a decision would directly contradict the government’s promises of leveling up the North. He warned that leaving the North with outdated Victorian-era infrastructure while modern high-speed lines connect the southern half of the country would deepen the existing North-South divide, creating a chasm that could persist for the rest of the century. Burnham criticized the government for making false promises and suggested that their recent actions reeked of desperation.

HS2 was initially proposed by the Labour Party in 2009, but it was approved by the coalition government. The project aimed to establish state-of-the-art infrastructure linking the South, Midlands, and North of England. Despite massive investments, HS2 has been plagued by delays and cost overruns. The eastern leg of the project has been entirely scrapped, and work between Birmingham and Crewe has faced setbacks due to inflation. Estimates of the total cost have exceeded £100 billion, with infrastructure watchdogs deeming the project “unachievable.” However, the decision to abandon the northern section has faced criticism from various political factions. Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson referred to it as “desperate” and “Treasury-driven nonsense,” while his predecessor, David Cameron, privately advised against it, with a close associate characterizing HS2 as a “totemic Conservative pledge.”

The potential abandonment of the HS2 northern section due to cost concerns has sparked debates about the government’s commitment to leveling up the North and addressing regional disparities in transportation infrastructure. Grant Shapps’ hints at modifications to the project’s sequencing and pace reflect the government’s need to balance budget constraints and timely delivery. However, critics argue that the North is continually neglected in favor of the South, exacerbating the North-South divide. The troubled history of HS2, with its numerous delays and rising costs, further complicates the decision-making process. Ultimately, the fate of HS2 rests on the government’s ability to navigate these challenges and deliver on its promises to the country.


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