Sunak speech - latest: PM lambasted for taking ‘nuclear option’ on HS2

The PM has promised 'every single penny' will get reinvested in hundreds of new transport projects

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivers his keynote speech at the Conservative Party annual conference at Manchester Central convention complex. Picture date: Wednesday October 4, 2023.
Rishi Sunak delivers his keynote speech at the Conservative Party conference. (Alamy) (Danny Lawson, PA Images)

Rishi Sunak has been criticised for his decision to axe the northern leg of HS2, following days of speculation over the future of the high-speed project.

Speaking at the Conservative Party conference, the prime minister said the facts had changed and insisted he had "the courage to change direction" with the project.

However, his announcement was met with derision from railway unions, opposition politicians and even some Conservatives - including West Midlands mayor Andy Street, who had previously described the move as an "incredible gaffe".

Darren Caplan, Railway Industry Association chief executive, said: "Scrapping HS2 Phase 2 is simply unnecessary and squanders the full benefits of Phase 1. The government can work with metro mayors, the railway industry, rail suppliers, and other stakeholders, to agree a cost-effective way forward, including encouraging private investment to take pressure off the public purse.

"Today’s nuclear option is defeatist and sends a terrible signal to potential overseas investors that the UK simply cannot deliver large national transport infrastructure schemes."

For HS2 what is likely to be a controversial decision, Sunak promised:

  • to reinvest "every single penny" of the £36bn cost in hundreds of new transport projects

  • reduced travel times, including Manchester to the new Bradford station in 30 mins

  • that HS2 will still run to Euston in central London

  • spend £12bn linking Manchester and Liverpool

  • build a Midlands rail hub and Leeds tram

  • upgrade the A1, A2, A5 and the M6

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said: "It always seems that people here where I live and where I kind of represent can be treated as second class citizens when it comes to transport... it's just so wrong."

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    “HS2 was about investing for the long-term, bringing the country together, ensuring a more balanced economy and delivering the Northern Powerhouse. We achieved historic, cross-party support, with extensive buy-in from city and local authority leaders across the Midlands and North of England.

    “Today’s announcement throws away 15 years of cross-party consensus, sustained over six administrations, and will make it much harder to build consensus for any future long-term projects.

    “All across the world, we see transformative, long-term infrastructure projects completed or under way. They show countries on the rise, building for future generations, thinking big and getting things done.

    “I regret this decision and in years to come I suspect many will look back at today’s announcement and wonder how this once-in-a-generation opportunity was lost.”

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    The Prime Minister’s press secretary said that some of the moves on HS2 will require legislative changes, but that it would not “hold up significant elements of work”.

    She said: “Parliament has already approved the route between Euston and Birmingham, so work on that route can continue at pace. We do not need legislation to stop work on phases 2a and 2b.”

    Number 10 said the funding would be spent on the transport projects in the same 2029-40 period.

Manchester, UK. 4th Oct, 2023. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak attends the Conservative Party's annual conference in Manchester, Britain, Oct. 2, 2023. The Conservative Party's annual conference is held from Oct. 1 to 4. in Manchester. Credit: Xinhua/Alamy Live News
MaPrime Minister Rishi Sunak is expected to announce the cancellation of Phase 2 of HS2 on Wednesday. (Alamy) (Xinhua, Xinhua)