North and South agree: we have to build HS2 from Euston to Manchester￼
By John Dickie and Henri Murison, chief executives of BusinessLDN and the Northern Powerhouse Partnership
Standing at the dispatch box earlier this month, the Chancellor pledged his economic plan would deliver “long-term, sustainable, healthy growth” across the UK. It was curious, therefore, that his Red Book contained no mention across its 122 pages of one project that would tick all of those boxes: HS2.
Earlier this year, Jeremy Hunt confirmed the government’s commitment to delivering HS2 and ensuring it runs all the way to Euston. But we now know that the completion date has been pushed back significantly, ostensibly to cut costs.
The sums behind the argument that delaying construction of HS2 will save money simply do not add up. Spending less now will only increase costs over the long-term while delaying the benefits for people and businesses across the country. It also puts jobs in the supply chain, like at Hitachi in Newton Aycliffe, at risk.
The UK has a long history of projects that have been delayed or shelved to save money in the short-term only for them to re-emerge at a later date with a more expensive price tag. Construction costs inevitably go up – especially at a time when inflation is high – so taxpayers will ultimately end up paying more. This assessment has been confirmed by a leaked Department for Transport briefing document which drives a coach and horses– through the idea that a delay will save money.
According to this memo, the line to Manchester is two decades away, and there is still no certainty about how to get services to Leeds as promised. Meanwhile, HS2 will terminate outside central London for a similar time frame despite the fact that the area around Euston looks increasingly like one massive construction site. It is also not clear at all how HS2’s final southern stop for that period – Old Oak Common – and the Elizabeth Line that serves it will cope with this deluge of new HS2 passengers .
These delays would deprive people in the North and London of HS2’s true benefits for a generation. Instead of trimming and stalling the project, we need a laser-like focus on ensuring that people and businesses across the country can seize the opportunities it offers as soon as possible. The alternative is yet another generation with the economy consigned to be stuck behind a stopping service rather than the capacity and growth on a new line.
Political dither and delay comes at a time when the government wants to attract investment into the UK but this decision is instead sending the worst possible signal. Businesses are having to cancel plans, lay-off staff and not get a return on their investment. Why should they believe there won’t be yet more further changes and continue to invest in opportunities around the new stations? Or indeed why should they invest with confidence on the basis of any infrastructure projects in the UK?
The country needs this project to remain on track through swift and efficient delivery to drive long-term growth and decarbonisation. Slowing down construction of sections will do little to help levelling-up, particularly in the North and parts of London as well.
Growth is the only sustainable way of increasing prosperity, improving public services and ensuring the nation’s finances are on an even keel.
With shovels already in the ground, the UK cannot afford yet another delay. Ministers should lift this handbrake on our economy and instead accelerate delivery of HS2 to create a world-class, new capacity-boosting rail line that will transform connectivity between our major cities, including Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham and London.
Working with businesses and organisations across the North