Table of Contents
Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged the government to reconsider the construction of the controversial version of HS2.
He suggested that the high-speed rail link, which was initiated during their tenure as Prime Minister, could be considered as treasury-managed nonsense. Last week, the government refused to guarantee the continuity of HS2 between Birmingham and Manchester.
On Saturday, more than 80 companies and business leaders will demand clarity on their commitment to HS2. In a letter to the government, they expressed deep concern about the uninterrupted query that has marred the design.
However, a government spokesperson stated on Friday that we are focused on delivering HS2. Under the Johnson government, HS2 was given the green light to start construction in 2020 with the aim of linking London, the Midlands and the north of England.
HS2 Construction Progress
The first phase of HS2 construction between London and Birmingham is underway, with over £2.3 billion already invested in land acquisition and preparations for subsequent phases, including the eastern leg between Birmingham and Leeds, which has seen delays and cost escalations.
On Thursday, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt stated that discussions with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak about major foundational project cost increases were hoped for, but no decisions had been made.
Boris Johnson’s point of view
Johnson argues that what he calls wildly overruns will not result in any short term savings and will make no difference in terms of tax cuts. He suggested that making such announcements just before the party conference in Manchester would be insanity. The former Prime Minister said, Canceling HS2 makes no sense, and that a rail link to the north of England was essential.
The concern of business leaders
Leaders of companies and business groups, including Manchester Airports Group, British Land, Virgin Money, and Northern Powerhouse, have signed a letter to the government calling for a renewed commitment to HS2, citing repeated mixed signals that are damaging Britain’s reputation and the broader supply chain.
They said, Two years ago Yorkshire and the North East lost the eastern leg of HS2, and despite long delays, there is still no resolution. It has now been announced that the entire line from Birmingham to Crewe, providing access to Scotland, could be removed, as well as a new line for Manchester and the status of Euston as a terminal.
They argued that the repeated mixed signals on HS2 were damaging the country’s broader supply chain because commitments cannot be made with confidence.
Henry Morrison, CEO of Northern Powerhouse, said that any dispute over HS2 could prove to be the worst decision as Prime Minister for Johnson. He told BBC Breakfast, It reaffirms to British business that you can’t trust this government. Still, you should not believe them, If they tell you thing is going to be. And that’s terrifying for our country.
Business London’s Chief Executive John Dickie also argued that policy changes were not the way to manage long-term foundational projects in the UK. He stated on BBC Radio 4’s Today program, Constant fragmentation, change, and uncertainty about the scope and timing of this project have been significant reasons for its increased cost over the past decade.”
He emphasized that stopping the work today wouldn’t make sense if it would result in greater losses for taxpayers in the future.
John Armitt, the Chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission, expressed concerns about the disruption between Birmingham and Manchester, calling it a disaster. He said this is a country that sets objectives and then, when challenges arise, backs away. We have to face the challenges.
The status of HS2’s progress was not entirely clear. Labour Party collaborator and chair of the Oakervee Review, Tony Berkeley, suggested that spending money elsewhere might be a better option. Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer admitted some uncertainty, but reiterated his support for the project and accused the government of indecision in considering options to save billions.
Campaign Coordinator for the Party, Pat McFadden, suggested that they need to see the cost estimates thoroughly before committing fully to the project, as costs can be revised.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak also stated that making endless accusations against him would be irresponsible.
HS2 Project Overview
HS2 aims to increase capacity and reduce travel times. The government had previously argued that it would also be economically beneficial, but critics contend that it’s too expensive and funds could be better utilized elsewhere. In March, Transport Secretary Mark Harper stated that there would be a two year delay in the section between Birmingham and Crewe.
Work has also been halted on the affordable plan for Houston. The government abandoned the eastern leg of Leeds in 2021. The official estimate for the project’s cost, excluding the eastern section, is approximately £71 billion in 2019 prices.