In a major blow to the North of England, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has announced that the HS2 high-speed rail link to Manchester will be scrapped. The decision comes after months of speculation and follows warnings that the project was becoming increasingly expensive and delayed. In a speech to the Conservative Party conference, Sunak said that the Government had decided to “reprioritise” its investment in transport infrastructure, and that the £36 billion saved from scrapping the northern leg of HS2 would be used to fund a series of smaller projects across the country. The cut in investment to the North was widely criticised, with former Conservative Prime Ministers Boris Johnson, Theresa May and David Cameron suggesting that the move was a mistake. Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, said that it was treating residents of Manchester and the North as “second class citizens”.
The decision has been met with widespread anger from politicians and business leaders in the North, who argue that it will further damage the region’s economy and make it more difficult to attract investment. However, the Government has defended its decision, arguing that HS2 is no longer the best way to improve transport links between the North and South of England. The Prime Minister said that the Government would instead focus on investing in existing rail lines and roads, and that this would provide better value for money for taxpayers.
The scrapping of the HS2 link to Manchester is a major setback for the project, which has already been plagued by delays and cost overruns. The first phase of HS2, which will connect London to Birmingham, is due to open in 2029, but the second phase, which would have connected Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds, was due to open in 2033. It remains to be seen how the Government will replace the HS2 link and whether it will be able to deliver on its promises to invest in other transport projects in the North.