HS2 rail line between Crewe and Manchester to be delayed to save money

  • Granada Reports Political Correspondent Lise McNally has the latest

The Government delaying the construction of a section of HS2 by two years to save money is 'another broken promise to the North', a Labour MP has said.

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.

In a written ministerial statement, Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: "The Government is committed to delivering HS2 Phase 2a between Birmingham and Crewe.

"We have seen significant inflationary pressure and increased project costs, and so we will rephase construction by two years, with an aim to deliver high-speed services to Crewe and the north west as soon as possible after accounting for the delay in construction."

Reacting to the news, Labour's MP for Wythenshawe and Sale East Mike Kane says the decision to postpone the contruction is just "another broken promise to the North".

The MP said: "This is devastating news. We know it's been a long time coming, with people campaigning for it.

"To get from Manchester Airport, my constituency, to London it takes two hours and 24 minutes. This would've reduced that time to under one hour.

"But more importantly, this would've relieved the pressure on the West Coast Mainline. This is really bad news for the North West economy."

He continued to say: "This is a terrible impact. This was about levelling up our community. They've broken that promise to the North."

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.

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.

“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.”

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

Lord McLoughlin, Chair of Transport for the North, said he had been reassured by the Transport Secretary HS2 was coming to Manchester.

“However, it needs to be understood whether or not these cost savings can be realised while still achieving the same desired outcome and conditional outputs," he said.

"The government needs to avoid being penny wise and pound foolish, as delays don’t necessarily lead to savings, and in fact can drive costs upwards.

“Nevertheless, the political leaders of the North who sit on our Board have made their collective position very clear - we must transform the North by building both HS2 and NPR in full.

“Taken together, both projects unlock the North’s economy from the existing position of poor infrastructure that has held it back. It is the communities and businesses across the North of England who are suffering most by any delay or inaction in delivering on these schemes.”

Cost-saving measures are being made due to inflationary pressures and increased construction costs. Credit: PA images

Michael Fabricant, also a Tory MP, 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 Lichfield constituency – will be repaired.

He added: “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.

“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.”

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.

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.

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