Cabinet Minister Grant Shapps has highlighted the escalating expenses associated with a proposed high-speed rail line in northern England. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak may decide to cancel the project in the coming days, prompting concerns about broken promises and unequal treatment across the country. Shapps did not confirm reports that the Manchester to Birmingham leg of the HS2 line will be abandoned, but acknowledged that “money is not infinite.”
Shapps emphasized the need for the government to assess whether the project is a never-ending financial burden or if it can be delivered efficiently for taxpayers. Sunak, who is facing a potential election next year with his Conservative Party trailing in the polls, has recently made other decisions that have deviated from previous commitments. Last week, he slowed down crucial climate change measures, including a ban on the sale of new petrol-powered cars.
The potential cancellation of the HS2 northern leg would be Sunak’s latest abandonment of earlier promises. This move has left business leaders and regional politicians in the north of England disappointed and frustrated. Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, from the opposition Labour Party, questioned why the north is consistently treated as a second-tier region when it comes to transportation infrastructure.
The government has cited escalating construction costs and the substantial amount of debt accumulated during the economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic as key reasons behind the reconsideration of HS2. Initially, the government allocated a budget of over £55 billion ($67 billion) for the entire HS2 project in 2015. However, an official review in 2020 revealed that the cost had surged to approximately £106 billion.
An announcement from Sunak regarding the future of HS2 is expected this week, just ahead of the Conservative Party’s annual conference in Manchester, which is scheduled to begin on October 1st. The decision will have significant ramifications for the northern regions of England, as well as wider implications for transportation and infrastructure development in the country.
More detail via Reuters here… ( Image via Reuters )