'Another betrayal of the Midlands': Birmingham leaders outraged at two year HS2 delay to save money

HS2 Credit: HS2 Ltd.

Leaders across the West Midlands say they're outraged at a two-year delay to HS2.

Construction of HS2 between Birmingham and Crewe will be delayed by two years, Transport Secretary Mark Harper confirmed this afternoon (Thursday 9 March).

The phases, which will primarily affect the high-speed railway between Birmingham and Crewe, and Crewe and Manchester, have been postponed after costs rose from £53 billion and £71 billion.

Councillor Ian Ward, leader of Birmingham City Council, said HS2 is being undermined by the government.

'Betrayal of the Midlands'

He said: “This is yet another betrayal of the Midlands and the north, making a mockery of the government’s promises to level up the UK economy.

"HS2 has the potential to deliver economic growth across the country, but it is being undermined by the government at every turn.

Artist impression of the Birmingham HS2 interchange Credit: PA Images

“This Tory government has no vision to drive growth or for levelling up the UK economy and needs to get out of the way and allow a Labour government to deliver the vital infrastructure projects that this country is crying out for.”

The scheme has been dogged by criticism over its finances. A budget of £55.7 billion for the whole of the project was set in 2015.

Rail minister Huw Merriman told the Commons last week the Government is “absolutely committed” to delivering HS2 but “cost pressures” must be examined.

'Not good enough'

Michael Fabricant, Conservative MP for Lichfield, said he will ask the Government whether the delay “marks the end of HS2 north of Birmingham” and if the “damage” done in southern Staffordshire – including to his constituency – will be repaired.

He said: “Simply saying the project is delayed is not good enough.

“This project with the backing of Labour and the Lib Dems should never have gone ahead in the first place.

HS2 logo on a worker's jacket Credit: PA Images

“Covid has encouraged remote working and even now regular rail commutes are down by 40% on pre-Covid levels.

“The Government are well aware this makes the business case for HS2 even less convincing than it was in the first place.”

What does the Prime Minister say?

Responding to the report that the project will be delayed, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s official spokesman said: “You will know there’s work already under way on HS2.

“Equally the rail minister has been clear we’re continuing to look at any cost pressures and ensure the project delivers value for money for taxpayers.”

HS2 Ltd chief executive Mark Thurston recently said the project has suffered a “significant” impact from inflation adding to the cost of building materials, labour, fuel and energy.

Computer generated image of an HS2 train Credit: HS2/PA

“We’re looking at the timing of the project, the phasing of the project, we’re looking at where we can use our supply chain to secure a lot of those things that are costing us more through inflation,” he said.

Conservative MP Simon Clarke, former chief secretary to the Treasury, described delaying the project as a “sensible decision”.

He said: “Having observed HS2’s progress as chief secretary, I have serious doubts as to value for money and cost control.”

HS2 phases

In October 2022, Transport Secretary Mark Harper said the forecast for when HS2’s phases would be complete remained within planned ranges.

That involved Phase One – connecting London with Birmingham – opening between 2029 and 2033.

Services will initially start and end at Old Oak Common, west London, due to delays at Euston.

Artist’s impression of an HS2 train on the Birmingham and Fazeley viaduct. Credit: HS2

Mr Harper said Phase 2a - extending the line from Birmingham to Crewe - was “on track” to be completed between 2030 and 2034.

The date range for the western leg of Phase 2b - connecting Crewe with Manchester - remained between 2035 and 2041, the Cabinet minister added.

The eastern leg of this phase will run from the West Midlands to the East Midlands. A planned extension to Leeds was shelved in November 2021.

The Department for Transport has been approached for comment.