If Sunak scrapping the Northern leg of HS2 while keeping Euston was satire it would be too on-the-nose

HS2 construction site cutting into woodland in reference to a report by the Wildlife Trusts about biodiversity Sunak
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On 4 October, Rishi Sunak scrapped the Northern section of HS2, confirming reports that the axing was on the cards. Addressing the Conservative Party conference – which happened to be in Manchester – Sunak said HS2 would no longer run to the city.

To add insult to injury, the PM also confirmed that the Old Oak Common to Euston leg of the high speed rail would go ahead.

Yup, you read that right. The North gets snubbed, and London gets yet another shiny new transport link. If it were satire, I’d think it was a little too on-the-nose.

HS2: Keeping it on the doorstep

Back in July, the government paused construction of HS2’s Euston station for a minimum of two years. This shifted the predicted end date of the project to a (distinctly hesitant) 2042.

Passengers would instead have to get off at the new Old Oak Common station in Acton, and change for the Elizabeth line. The Elizbeth line itself officially opened in 2022, and was a brand new feather in the cap of the South’s transport network. It connects the East and West of England – via London, of course.

However, it appears that building a high speed train between Birmingham and London’s suburbs would be too embarrassing even for Sunak. Instead, his government are taking over construction in Euston from the wildly overbudget HS2 bosses. The PM also announced that the government had found £6.5bn in savings, and promised that:

The management of HS2 will no longer be responsible for the Euston site. There must be some accountability for the mistakes made, for the mismanagement of this project.

Read on...

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This miraculous cost-cutting measure is almost blindingly simple – if trains don’t go to Manchester, then fewer people will want to get on them. If fewer people want to get on the train, then the station doesn’t need to be as big. As such, only six of the eleven platforms from the original designs are actually going to be built. Truly exceptional logic, right there.

Well the North has roads, doesn’t it?

But what, you might ask, about the North? After all, HS2 was previously at the forefront of the government’s grand scheme to ‘level up’ the economy by providing better infrastructure to the North.

HS2’s costs had almost trebled to more than an estimated £100bn from £37.5bn in 2013. That was even before taking into account recent ballooning inflation, making it one of the world’s most expensive lines. Then, back in 2021, faced with mounting costs, the government pulled the plug on the northernmost route linking Birmingham to Leeds.

Well never fear – Sunak also announced the diversion funds for the improvement of existing transport routes up North. The government plans to spend the £36bn saved by scrapping the Manchester leg of HS2 on improving current road, bus, and rail networks.

The PM stated:

I am cancelling the rest of the HS2 project and in its place, we will reinvest every single penny, £36 billion, in hundreds of new transport projects in the North and the Midlands, across the country.

Much as with the Northern sections of HS2 itself, I shall believe it when I see it.

‘How little he really cares’

The Northern leg’s cancellation might just have come as cold comfort from an environmental perspective. After all, a 2020 Wildlife Trusts report showed that the line’s full route would partially or completely eliminate:

  • 108 ancient woodlands.
  • Five wildlife refuges of international importance.
  • 33 Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
  • 21 local nature reserves.

But wait right there. The PM also announced that his government would perform major upgrades on key motorways such as the M6, serving central and Northern England.

Greenpeace UK’s head of politics, Rebecca Newsom, highlighted that Sunak’s decision:

to divert the money into over 70 road schemes shows how little he really cares about tackling air pollution, traffic and cutting carbon emissions.

While investment in Midlands and Northern rail may provide better value for money, the full £36 billion… should have been redirected to public transport to truly help level up the UK, protect children’s lungs, and help cut household costs.

Money would be spent also on faster train journeys between Manchester and other northern cities, including Bradford, Hull and Sheffield under a scheme named ‘Network North’.

First train out of here

So there you have it. Far from ‘levelling up’ the North, HS2 has become a lengthy debacle which fizzled out into a fast-track between Birmingham and London. As usual, money is promised to everywhere outside the capital – but I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting, if I were you.

It’s almost fitting that Britain’s only completed high-speed line is the Eurostar, bearing passengers out of London and into France. European companies own most of the UK’s rail lines anyway – it makes sense that the real money is on getting out of the country as fast as is humanly possible.

Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse.

Featured image via Youtube/StopHS2

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