Decision to scrap northern leg of HS2 sparks anger among Manchester business community

The PM's confirmation that he is scrapping phase two of the high-speed railway project has sparked anger over the government’s “broken promises”.

by Antonia Garrett Peel
Last Updated: 04 Oct 2023

The leading Manchester business association has denounced the government’s “broken promises”, after prime minister Rishi Sunak confirmed that the northern leg of HS2 is being scrapped.

In Sunak’s first party conference speech as PM, he said that “the facts have changed”, as he confirmed reports that have been circulating for several weeks.

A piece by The Independent first raised the spectre of phase two being shelved, reporting that the northern leg’s future was in doubt over concerns about spiralling costs and delays.

In his party conference address, the Conservative party leader outlined plans for a different project, ‘Network North’, which would “join up our great towns and cities in the North and the Midlands”.

Chris Fletcher, the director of policy at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, likened the scheme to a “back of a beer mat plan” and said he anticipates the reality to be “very different”.

The Network North proposal includes new road schemes as well as reopening railway lines.

Fletcher said, “the simple fact is that, irrespective of what it is called, we are still no nearer to getting the transport network that we actually needed years ago to unlock the north’s potential”.

“We have been promised a lot before and nothing has been done and this latest attempt from government will be treated with cynicism and scepticism by a lot of people.”

Fletcher said that Network North had the feeling of a “political concept” rather than a practical solution and that, for it to work, there would need to be a “huge investment in upskilling and training an army of workers”.

A number of media outlets reported this week that the rumoured decision to scrap phase two had been confirmed by sources. As speculation mounted, more than 30 organisations from Greater Manchester and the surrounding area signed a joint letter urging the PM not to cancel the Birmingham-Manchester leg.

“Put bluntly, we are fed up of broken promises, delays, cuts and hopes about finally getting what we need being dashed for political expediency,” Fletcher concluded. “We will be watching closely and waiting on further details of what will be delivered and, more importantly, when.”

Picture credit: John Lamb via Getty Images.