HS2 could cost more than £100 billion – Chris Gorman/Big Ladder
Rishi Sunak’s plans to scrap the northern section of HS2 will undermine millions of pounds of investment in the West Midlands, the region’s Conservative mayor has warned.
Andy Street urges Rishi Sunak to reconsider his opposition to the high-speed rail link amid reports the Prime Minister is set to scrap the Birmingham to Manchester section.
Tory Mayer, formerly the boss of the John Lewis Partnership, told the Telegraph: “A lot of people have made big investment decisions – literally hundreds of millions of pounds, if not billions of pounds – on this promise. [HS2] coming.
“I think it’s a very poor signal for businesses to say, ‘We’ve changed our mind and what you assumed in your investment decision is no longer true’.”
The intervention comes days after Birmingham City Football Club’s new US owners warned that cutting HS2 would damage Britain’s credibility among foreign investors.
Four Labor mayors in the North, as well as London Mayor Sadiq Khan, have also jointly signed a letter urging Mr Sunak to preserve the problematic plan.
This has increased pressure on the Prime Minister to put a halt to the implementation of the project, with the decision now thought to be delayed until after the Tory party conference in Manchester.
Mr Sunak is said to be “concerned” by Whitehall estimates that the price tag for HS2 – already cut in some places – could now exceed £100 billion, which was originally estimated at around £30 billion. Was approved with a cost of Rs.
It is believed he is in favor of extending the second phase to Manchester and potentially terminating in the west London suburb of Old Oak Common, rather than running the line to Euston as originally planned.
However, the cuts have faced vocal opposition from senior figures in Mr Sunak’s own party, including former prime ministers David Cameron and Boris Johnson, who have warned the changes would make the plan a white elephant.
Mr Street said the bulk of inward investment into the West Midlands was based on plans being made to Manchester.
He said: “This has been part of the story of investment in the West Midlands – we will be at the heart of that network. And here’s what that resulted in in terms of the record inward investment numbers.”
According to official government figures, £1 of every £10 foreign investment went to the West Midlands last year, and the region topped the league table of regional foreign investment with 181 projects.
There has been massive investment in Birmingham over the past decade, much of it on the assumption that the city will be the base for the new HS2 network.
A brand new station, Birmingham Curzon Street, will be located at the heart of a 141-hectare regeneration area in which the West Midlands Combined Authority and the Government are investing £724 million, led by Mr Street.
The combined authority has also bet on HS2 as a key pillar of future growth and jobs. He had previously suggested that the full Y-shaped scheme would add £4 billion to the local economy.
The 2021 projection, which assumes workers from further afield will be able to more easily commute to Birmingham, was made before Boris Johnson’s government canceled the proposed phase out of Leeds.
Mr Street said reducing HS2 plans at such an advanced stage would damage confidence in the government’s ability to deliver on major infrastructure promises.
He said: “We have to show the world that we can deliver critical infrastructure effectively.”
Mr Street argued that HS2 would provide a significant replacement for the existing, but poor quality, intercity train services between London, Birmingham and Manchester.
He said: “The biggest challenge for us is connectivity between the Midlands and the North, because we are already very well connected to London.
“It was always about trying to get a train between London, Manchester and Birmingham, because it’s not just that the current experience is slow – it’s also overcrowded, expensive and people don’t want to use it, so they Choose to drive instead. This is not an environmental solution.
“I know it’s over-budget, we have to deal with it. But you must follow its principle completely.”
Separately, Andy Burnham, the Labor mayor of Greater Manchester, has accused the government of treating northern taxpayers like “second-class citizens” and threatened legal action if the northern leg is scrapped.
Northern mayors say scrapping the HS2 northern section would destroy a vital section of railway needed for the proposed “Northern Powerhouse Rail” line between Liverpool and Leeds.
Business groups and universities have also warned against slashing the plan, with the Northern Powerhouse Partnership saying it would damage “the UK’s reputation as a place to do business”.
Nikki Patterson, regional director of the CBI business lobby group for the Midlands, told local media: “All the research tells us that poor transport connectivity has a huge impact on productivity and ultimately growth.”
However, former Tory party leader Lord Hague supported Mr Sunak on Tuesday and described HS2 as a “national disgrace”.