Parts of HS2 to be delayed for two years, government announces


The government has announced the construction of sections of HS2 will be delayed by two years to save money.

The high-speed railway was initially set to link London and the West Midlands with a further phase extending to cities in the North.

However, Transport Secretary Mark Harper said on Thursday: “We have seen significant inflationary pressure and increased project costs, and so we will rephase construction by two years, with an aim to deliver high-speed services to Crewe and the North West as soon as possible after accounting for the delay in construction.”

The delay will affect the northwest section of HS2, from Birmingham to Crewe, and then from Crewe to Manchester.

In a written ministerial statement, Mr Harper said the government is “prioritising HS2’s initial services” between Old Oak Common in west London and Birmingham Curzon Street.

Hs2 map
The delay will affect the northwest section of HS2, from Birmingham to Crewe, and then from Crewe to Manchester.

On delivering services to central London, he also hinted at delays, saying: “We will address affordability pressures to ensure the overall spending profile is manageable.

“We will therefore take the time to ensure we have an affordable and deliverable station design, delivering Euston alongside high-speed infrastructure to Manchester.”

A planned extension to Leeds was already shelved in November 2021.

Labour said the latest delay meant the North was again having to “pay the price” for government failures.

Louise Haigh, the shadow transport secretary, said: “Tens of thousands of jobs, and billions in economic growth are dependent on this project.

“The North is yet again being asked to pay the price for staggering Conservative failure.

“Conservative chaos and chronic indecision is holding back jobs, growth and costing the taxpayer.

“This is the biggest project in Europe and delays pile costs up in the long run – ministers now need to come clean on precisely how much their indecision will cost taxpayers and the North.”

Raising a point of order in the Commons, Labour MP Sarah Owen also attacked Mr Harper for “avoiding scrutiny”.

She said the cabinet minister “should have had the decency to come to this House and explain to members why they are doing this” instead of publishing a written statement “at nearly 5 o’clock on Thursday afternoon”.

Commons speaker Lindsay Hoyle also criticised the way the delay was communicated, with his spokesperson saying: “The Speaker has consistently told the government that major policy announcements should be made to the House first so that members have the chance to ask questions on behalf of their constituents, rather than hearing about them via the media.”

Delay ‘could lead to higher costs’

Delivery of the high-speed railway has been a core pledge of the Conservative government but it has been plagued by delays and ever-increasing costs – from estimates of about £33 billion in 2010 to £55.7bn for the whole project in 2015.

By 2019, the estimated cost had soared to at least £71bn, excluding the final eastern leg from the West Midlands to the East Midlands.

Ministers are understood to be delaying construction of the northern section in the hope they can spread the cost over a longer period of time so it was more affordable annually.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is set to announce his spring budget next week and will have Rishi Sunak’s target in mind – to get government debt to fall as a percentage of GDP within five years.

HS2 :'Just give us the facts' Transport Secretary
The high-speed trains were set to go from London Euston to Birmingham and up to Crewe and Manchester

However, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said the delay would hit confidence in the rail industry and could ultimately lead to higher overall costs for HS2.

John Foster, the CBI’s policy unit programme director, said the news “will ultimately reduce investor and contractor confidence in the rail sector”.

“To mitigate further loss of confidence, it is critical that government tackles the inflationary pressures which are biting hard across the infrastructure sector,” he said.

“Delays to projects may create short-term savings, but they can ultimately lead to higher overall costs and slow down the UK’s transition to a better, faster and greener transport network.”

HS2 a ‘colossal mistake’

Leader of Birmingham City Council, Ian Ward, said the delay is “another betrayal of the Midlands and the North, making a mockery of the government’s empty promises to level up the UK economy”.

But Conservative MP and former chief secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke said delaying construction “would be a sensible decision”.

“Having observed HS2’s progress as chief secretary, I have serious doubts as to value for money and cost control,” he said.

Greg Smith, the Conservative MP for Buckingham, called for the government to “accept the whole thing was a colossal mistake and scrap it, all of it”.

Just last week, rail minister Huw Merriman told the Commons the government is “absolutely committed” to delivering HS2 but admitted “cost pressures” must be examined.

HS2 Ltd chief executive Mark Thurston said the project had suffered a “significant” impact from increased costs in building materials, fuel and energy due to high inflation.

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HS2 unearths unexpected treasure

HS2 is Britain’s biggest infrastructure project and has had support from governments of all stripes since it was first mooted more than a decade ago.

But last month, the government reportedly planned to make drastic changes that would almost halve the number of high-speed trains per hour and services would travel slower to save money.

Handout photo dated August 2022 issued by HS2 of a aerial view of the HS2 Euston station construction site in London.
Aerial view of the HS2 Euston station construction site in London

The Department for Transport (DfT) said at the time it “does not comment on speculation” and said the government “remain committed to delivering the project”.

In January, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said he did not see “any conceivable circumstance” in which the original plan would not be followed after reports the high-speed line could stop before reaching central London.

There were claims the last leg of HS2 into Euston could be scrapped and replaced with a new hub at Old Oak Common in the suburbs of northwest London, where it is set to stop before travelling into Euston.

The government did not deny the reports or that a two to five-year delay to the entire project – currently due to be completed between 2029 and 2033 – was being considered due to record high inflation impacting costs.

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