In his conference speech Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that the high-speed section of the HS2 rail project between Birmingham and Manchester would be scrapped. A brave announcement perhaps as the conference took place in Manchester. Presumably Sunak was not considering sampling a pint at a local hostelry.
The leg between Birmingham and Manchester will be improved but not elevated to high-speed status.
Views on the announcement
Lord Houchen of High Leven aka Metropolitan Mayor Ben Houchen of Tees Valley, is delighted. He announced that his area will receive a chunk of the cash formerly destined for the rail project.
The Tory West Midlands Mayor Andy Street originally claimed he was considering resigning from the Conservatives over the decision but has now decided to remain in-post and as a Tory.
Andy Burnham Metropolitan Mayor of Greater Manchester, is spitting blood. He said:
“It just proves there’s still so many people in politics, many of them in the Tory party, that think they can treat the north of England differently to the way they treat other parts of the country, it’s just so wrong.”
According to the BBC’s Richard Moss, £4bn of the £36bn savings will go to six urban areas. Teesside will get more money per head of population than anywhere else in the North.
Mayor Houchen posted on Twitter/X:
“£978m given to us to deliver real outcomes for communities and families across the area. Something that we wouldn’t get if HS2 was going ahead.”
Criticism from Cameron
A dissenting voice appeared on Twitter/X: that of former Prime Minister David Cameron. He commented:
“Today’s decision on HS2 is the wrong one. It will help to fuel the views of those who argue that we can no longer think or act for the long-term as a country; that we are heading in the wrong direction. 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 fifteen years of cross-party consensus, sustained over six administrations, and will make it much harder to build consensus for any future long-term projects….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.”
Sunak’s podium carried the slogan,
“LONG-TERM DECISIONS FOR A BRIGHTER FUTURE.”
But the HS2 decision carries all the signs of short-term thinking for that snap election round the corner.
Another surprise at the Conference was Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove’s praise for Teesworks, currently under investigation by his department for corruption.
According to ITV’s Tom Sheldrick, Gove mentioned that the project would create 4,000 jobs, seemingly a decline from the 20,000 touted over the past few years.
It turns out that rather than an outbreak of realism, the figure came from the 4,000 jobs to be created at NZT Teesside, it was reported by Tees Valley Monitor.
So that’s alright then.