Today’s news is a devastating blow to our industry and our whole economy. For 15 years we have worked with the government to develop this project – their project – taking it from a concept to construction. Companies have invested in people, skills and equipment on the back of it with some even relocating in anticipation of it being completed.
It is true the costs of the project have risen over those 15 years. In recent years inflation has been rampant in the UK economy and the construction sector has been impacted far more than most. But the principal cause of any real term cost increases lies in the chopping and changing of the project’s scope, with today’s news being the fourth major change by government in just three years. As any project manager will tell you, the cheapest way to deliver is against a fixed scope without constant changes. This is the biggest and most damaging U-turn in the history of UK infrastructure.
What we have now is a plan for a railway that will not deliver the transformational benefits the north of England needs. Indeed, the solution proposed by the Prime Minister is a recipe for disaster. Merging HS2 trains onto existing lines at Birmingham will create a huge bottleneck, akin to the M40 merging onto an A-road and then a country lane – rather than the M6. Rail connectivity to the north will be worse than it is today.
That’s why it is inconceivable that HS2 will not eventually reach Manchester. Today the industry recommits to delivering the first phase as efficiently as it can, whilst continuing to make the case that this should be just the beginning of a network that reaches Manchester, Leeds and many more cities. We stand ready to work on those future developments.
The proposed investment through ‘Network North’ is an interesting one and of course welcome. But cancelling Phase 2 of HS2 frees up just £1-3 billion in the next five years, meaning any improvements are still far over the horizon.
If we want to truly level up our country, it cannot be a choice between HS2 and other projects. The UK needs 21st century infrastructure, bringing all of its cities closer together. HS2 is the key foundation for that network. Every other major European country has managed to build a high speed rail network, recognising it’s a vital part of a modern society and economy for years to come. We’d like to think Britain still could too.