HS2: Rishi Sunak axes high speed rail link to Manchester in Tory conference speech ... in Manchester
Rishi Sunak gave his leader's speech on the final day of Conservative Party Conference in Manchester.
and live on Freeview channel 276
Rishi Sunak has confirmed he will axe the northern leg of High Speed 2 (HS2) rail from Birmingham to Manchester, at his party's conference in Manchester.
The Prime Minister told Conservative MPs and activists that this decision, which would significantly shorten the UK's biggest infrastructure project in decades, will show he is prepared to take tough decisions looking to the future. He added that “facts have changed” on the situation, which have contributed to the controversial scrapping.
However costs have spiralled from £36 billion in 2010 to more than £100 billion now, and the Leeds leg has already been scrapped. The high-speed trains are likely to be able to go from Birmingham to Manchester on old west coast mainline track, which some people have suggested would make travelling from London slower than on the old route.
In his conference speech, Sunak criticised 30 years of a “broken” system incentivising “the easy decision, not the right one”.
Despite the Tories having been in charge for the majority of the last three decades, Sunak pitched himself as the man to “fundamentally change our country” ahead of an election expected next year. He said Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is the "continuity candidate".
On HS2, Sunak said he would reinvest around £36 billion of savings into road and rail schemes in the North and Midlands, adding that he was "ending this long-running saga" of HS2. The Prime Minister said: “I say to those who backed the project in the first place, the facts have changed and the right thing to do when the facts change is to have the courage to change direction.
“So I am ending this long-running saga. 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. This means £36 billion of investment in the project that will make a real difference across our nation.”
However, regional leaders in Manchester have said Northern Powerhouse Rail - which would connect Leeds with Manchester and Liverpool - will not be possible without HS2 track.
NationalWorld reported that Northern Powerhouse Partnership chief executive Henri Murison accused the Prime Minister of "dishonesty" and "lies" over his implication that the east to west line could be built without HS2.
While the Tory mayor for the West Midlands, Andy Street, earlier said axing HS2 to Manchester would be “an incredible political gaffe” allowing opponents to accuse Sunak of having decided to “shaft the North” while in Manchester. Street put off a trip to Munich to drum up investment for his region, instead choosing to stay in Manchester.
Sunak added that, despite reports that the HS2 line would be terminating at Old Oak Common on the outskirts of west London, the line will reach Euston as planned. He said: “Given how far along construction is, we will complete the line from Birmingham to Euston and yes, HS2 trains will still run here to Manchester and journey times will be cut between Manchester, Birmingham, London by 30 minutes. And I say this to Andy Street, a man I have huge admiration and respect for, I know we have different views on HS2."
In his speech, Sunak reflected on his first year in No 10 and said there is a “feeling that Westminster is a broken system”. “It isn’t anger, it is an exhaustion with politics. In particular, politicians saying things, and then nothing ever changing,” he said.
“And you know what? People are right. Politics doesn’t work the way it should," the Prime Minister told Tory activists. “We’ve had 30 years of a political system which incentivises the easy decision, not the right one – 30 years of vested interests standing in the way of change.”
He accused Labour – who will hold its party conference next week while consistently holding a double-digit lead over the Conservatives – of failing to “set out their stall” under Starmer and betting on voters’ “apathy”.
Sunak claimed he is the reformer: “Politicians spent more time campaigning for change than actually delivering it. Our mission is to fundamentally change our country.”
Hours later, across the city, Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham spoke at a press conference, symbolically held at the Museum of Science and Industry, on the site of the terminus of the world’s first inter-city passenger railway, between Liverpool and Manchester. He said: “We really did give passenger rail, commuter rail, to the world.
“You may remember, almost 10 years ago, George Osborne came to the building just beyond here to tap into that spirit that the north of England had in the nineteenth century of pioneering and bringing new developments to the world, to say that he would bring forward a northern powerhouse that would be all about that ambition again for Britain, bringing north-south lines with HS2, east-west with HS3 as he called it then, that obviously became Northern Powerhouse Rail.
“You name it, we were getting it all. I hope those statements weren’t made 10 years ago just with political intentions in mind, to try and win votes here, but it’s starting to look very much that was what it was all about. Does this country have the will, within it, to actually prioritise the north of England?”
While Andy Street said that despite his anger over HS2, he wasn't going to resign from the Conservative Party. He said he had “thought incredibly long and hard about what my future in the Conservative Party should be”, but had decided to remain a member.
“The West Midlands must be at the heart of the UK’s modern transport network and reap all the benefits that will bring,” he said.
“The Prime Minister has today reached out to work with me to make that happen and to turn my back on that offer would be doing a serious disservice to my region.
“I know this decision will make me deeply unpopular in some circles, and indeed many wanted me to resign and make a statement against my party.
“But I have always said that I would put place before party and staying as a Conservative to work with the Prime Minister and his Government to continue the revival of the West Midlands is doing exactly that.”
While former Prime Minister David Cameron said Sunak had destroyed a cross-party consensus, and he would come to regret his decision. On X, formerly Twitter, Cameron said: "Today’s decision on HS2 is the wrong one. It will help to fuel the views of those who argue that we can no longer think or act for the long-term as a country; that we are heading in the wrong direction.
"HS2 was about investing for the long-term, bringing the country together, ensuring a more balanced economy and delivering the Northern Powerhouse. We achieved historic, cross-party support, with extensive buy-in from city and local authority leaders across the Midlands and North of England. Today’s announcement throws away fifteen years of cross-party consensus, sustained over six administrations, and will make it much harder to build consensus for any future long-term projects.
"All across the world, we see transformative, long-term infrastructure projects completed or underway. They show countries on the rise, building for future generations, thinking big and getting things done. I regret this decision and in years to come I suspect many will look back at today’s announcement and wonder how this once-in-a-generation opportunity was lost.
Richard Bowker, the former boss of the Strategic Rail Authority, said it was “hard to argue” the schemes listed by Rishi Sunak were “not good ideas”, but he warned they “don’t solve the core problem”.
He told the PA news agency: “The fundamental problem with our rail network in and around the major conurbations is that there are real capacity constraints largely driven by having lots of different kinds of trains on the same lines.
“That’s quite inefficient. The point about HS2 was that it was transformational, it was a game-changer, it got the fast stuff off the existing network and allowed it to breathe.
“It allowed it to have more of those other trains on it, whether they’re local, regional or freight. What’s been announced today doesn’t address that problem.”
While Sir John Armitt, who chairs the National Infrastructure Commission, said: “HS2 was part of a long-term strategy with clear objectives to link up some of the country’s largest cities. It had been planned for almost 15 years and under construction since 2017.
“The decision to stop the legs north and east of Birmingham is deeply disappointing, leaving a major gap in the UK’s rail strategy around which a number of city regions have been basing their economic growth plans.
“While it is welcome that the money will be redirected into rail and other transport projects for the North and Midlands, it’s not yet clear how the collection of schemes announced today will address the gap left behind by HS2.”