Contractors lament ‘dark day’ as Sunak axes HS2 Manchester leg

Prime minister Rishi Sunak has announced that he is “cancelling the rest of the HS2 project”, adding that “in its place we will reinvest every single penny of the £36bn in hundreds of new transport projects”.

The largest UK construction project in decades has been dramatically cut back, with Sunak ending weeks of speculation by confirming that a new HS2 rail line will not be extended from Birmingham to Manchester. Sunak was speaking a the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester.

Sunak said HS2 will still run to London Euston “given how far along construction is”, but added that “the management of HS2 will no longer be responsible for the Euston site” as “there must be some accountability for the mistakes made [and] for the mismanagement of this project”.

Sunak said money saved from the mega-project, which he pointed out has been “repeatedly delayed” and on which “costs have more than doubled”, would be reinvested into a Network North project to upgrade rail connections between several northern cities.

He said rail travel times would be cut between northern cities, with investment in a new Leeds tram, an extension of the West Midlands Metro and electrification of the North Wales mainline.

Sunak also pledged major investment in roads, with upgrades to the A1, A2, A5, M6, and investment in a Shipley Bypass, Blythe relief road. He added there would be “70 other road schemes”, saying: “We will resurface roads across the country.”

Sunak also said the HS2 Euston site would be made into a “development zone”, with the construction of “thousands of new homes for the next generation of homeowners, new business opportunities and a station that delivers the capacity we need”.

The prime minister’s announcement was met with misery by the industry, with the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) describing it as a “dark day for the entire UK economy”.

Marie-Claude Hemming, director of operations at CECA, said: “While the prime minister has promised to reinvest HS2 money in alternative schemes, we as an industry know how unlikely this will be to materialise and impact communities in anything like the game-changing way that high speed rail would have delivered.

“This is a dark day for the UK economy, and for everyone who has placed trust in successive UK governments to level up the country and close the north-south divide. Britain now lags far behind our competitors and will remain so due to this short-sighted decision.

“That the UK Government can make such a decision without a democratic mandate – after the scheme has been supported by all parties throughout successive general elections – frankly beggars belief.”

Allan Wilen, economic director at construction intelligence firm Glenigan, said: “The decision will also be a blow to many contractors and subcontractors and material manufacturers who have already invested significantly to deliver this project, during a time of extremely tight margins.

“In a sector already struggling to re-establish itself following an extraordinary few years, this does nothing to build stability and certainty across the construction sector.

“Cancelling HS2 phase teo is a lost opportunity deliver a long-term boost to economic growth and productivity both in the North West of England and across the UK.

“The new line would have not only reduced journey time for passengers, but freed-up capacity on the existing journeys for more local and freight services. This would also have indirectly reduced congestion and delays on the motorway network.”

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