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HS2's West Midlands to Manchester Line Faces Cancellation


Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is anticipated to declare the cancellation of the HS2 high-speed rail link from the West Midlands to Manchester during his Conservative Party conference speech. Instead, he is expected to unveil various alternative projects in northern England and Wales, asserting that these alternatives offer better value for money and can be executed more swiftly. Speculation had surrounded the future of the HS2 line for weeks.

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps, who was formerly Transport Secretary under Boris Johnson, indicated that a new high-speed rail line to Manchester would not be constructed, but HS2 trains would still run to Manchester and Leeds on existing tracks. He cited changes in travel patterns due to the COVID-19 pandemic as a factor in the decision.

Local leaders and businesses have expressed displeasure at this news, with Greater Manchester's Labour mayor, Andy Burnham, accusing the government of disrespecting the North. Conversely, Conservative West Midlands mayor Andy Street, who had previously warned Sunak against scrapping HS2, is reportedly distressed by the decision.

Former Prime Ministers Boris Johnson, Theresa May, and David Cameron have cautioned against downsizing the high-speed line. However, some Tory MPs oppose HS2, viewing it as a wasteful expenditure.

HS2 was intended to reduce travel times, enhance rail network capacity, and generate jobs outside London. Yet, concerns over rising costs, estimated at about £71 billion in 2019, have persisted, exacerbated by recent increases in material and labor expenses.

In his conference speech, Sunak is expected to outline the use of existing tracks for HS2 trains to reach Manchester, a move that would reduce journey time benefits and fail to create additional rail capacity. There have been suggestions of redirecting funds to improve east-west rail links in northern England, such as the Northern Powerhouse Rail project, which could be complicated by HS2's alteration.

The cancellation of the HS2 line has been described as a "national tragedy" by Henri Murrison, CEO of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership. HS2, proposed in 2010 and approved in 2012, has faced delays, adjustments, and reduced scope.

With over 30,000 people already working on HS2, primarily in the supply chain, and property purchases made along the planned route, Sunak's announcement could have significant economic and political repercussions.

Sunak will deliver his conference speech at a crucial time for the Conservative Party, which has trailed Labour in polls for over a year. He will emphasize his ability to bring fundamental change to the country, hoping to boost the Prime Minister's and the party's fortunes ahead of the 2024 general election.