PM cans northern leg of HS2 and avoids housebuilding in conference speech

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has ended wide speculation that the northern leg of HS2 from Birmingham to Manchester will be axed, by confirming it in his conference speech to Conservatives in England’s second largest city.

He instead pledged to “reinvest every penny” of the £36bn that would be saved into hundreds of smaller transport infrastructure projects, including east-west links between northern cities. The ‘Network North’ project would see fast links between Manchester and Bradford, Hull and Sheffield built.

The prime minister also promised that the £12bn for a link between Manchester and Liverpool would be “protected,” while the West Midlands metro network would be extended, while a tram route in Leeds was also confirmed.

In what was likely his last party conference speech before next year’s General Election, Sunak claimed an ethos of “challenging consensus” and “vested interests” in justifying the decision to end HS2’s second phase.

He told atteendees: “The facts have changed, and the right thing to do when the facts change is to have the courage to change direction,” and that HS2 was the “ultimate example of the old consensus.”  Sunak added that the business case had been “massively weakened” by changes in UK business travel post-Covid.

Sunak’s speech contained various commitments to reform and reinvest across a range of sectors, but was absent of mention of the contentious housebuilding and associated environmental targets.

HS2 Ltd will no longer be in charge of the link to Euston which remains in progress, instead the government will establish a ‘Euston development zone,’ including “thousands of homes” as well as a new rail station.

More than £580m has already been spent buying land north of Birmingham for the scheme, with more than 400 houses purchased from Crewe to Manchester alone.