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High-Speed Rail Project HS2 in Doubt as UK Government Prepares for Second Round of Cuts

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HS2 High-Speed Rail Project in Jeopardy as UK Government Plans Further Cuts

The UK’s ambitious high-speed rail project, known as HS2, is facing further setbacks as the government prepares for a second round of project cuts, casting doubt on the completion of the state-of-the-art train line. Initially hailed as a high-speed “revolution” by former Prime Minister David Cameron in 2013, HS2 was meant to connect central London to the northern cities of Manchester and Leeds, symbolizing the government’s commitment to investing in English regions. However, with ballooning costs and delays, the project now looks unlikely to reach its intended destinations.

The failure of HS2 has become a source of embarrassment for the UK, which was once known as the world’s railway pioneer. It has raised concerns about the country’s ability to deliver large-scale infrastructure projects on time and within budget. Former Tory leader and UK Foreign Secretary William Hague described it as a “national disgrace.” The latest round of cuts to the project, expected to be announced after the Conservative party conference, has already sparked protests in Manchester, where Labour Mayor Andy Burnham is furious about the curtailment of a project that was meant to boost regional investment.

One of the main reasons for the spiraling costs and delays is the weighty British bureaucracy and the “not-in-my-backyard” mentality that often hinders major infrastructure projects. HS2 has faced opposition from various communities along its route, resulting in costly changes to the original plan. The planning process, largely due to local opposition, has been particularly challenging, leading to more miles of expensive tunnelling than initially planned.

The cost of HS2 has also raised eyebrows when compared to similar projects in other countries. Sam Dumitriu of growth campaign group Britain Remade highlighted that the original estimate for HS2 would have made it more than double the price-per-km of the high-speed connection between Naples and Bari in Italy and 3.7 times more expensive than France’s high-speed link between Tours and Bordeaux.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has pointed the blame at highly paid HS2 executives, who allegedly received significant pay and bonuses as the project faced difficulties. However, the problems with HS2 highlight broader issues with the UK’s planning system and its “stop-start” approach to major projects. Dumitriu argues that the high costs and complexity are often caused by the country’s planning system, which prioritizes protecting the countryside. Additionally, the long gaps between large infrastructure projects lead to a loss of skills and uncertainty in the industry.

Sunak hopes to appease concerns about the north by focusing on upgrading local transport services instead of completing the full HS2 project. However, critics argue that without the speed and capacity offered by HS2, the upgrades may not be sufficient. The government has also discussed overhauling the planning system, but previous attempts have faced opposition from Tory MPs worried about the impact on their constituencies. It seems any fresh endeavor in this area will have to wait until after the next election.

Opposition leader Keir Starmer’s Labour party is hesitant to commit to HS2 until the latest official cost estimates are released. Both major parties have pledged planning reform as part of their growth agendas, but the details remain vague.

As the UK grapples with the failure of HS2, there is a growing sense of despair about the state of public services and infrastructure in the country. The project’s setbacks, especially compared to successful initiatives in other countries, highlight the need for a comprehensive review of how large-scale infrastructure projects are planned and managed in the UK. Until then, the completion of HS2 and other major projects will remain uncertain, leaving the future of the country’s infrastructure in doubt.

More detail via POLITICO here… ( Image via POLITICO )

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