Greater Manchester Mayor proposes compromise for HS2 rail project

Andy Burnham, Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester has stated that he would be open to discussing with Ministers the possibility of delaying the construction of the Northern leg of UK’s High Speed 2 Rail Line if the Government commits to building a east-west route.

Rishi Sunak has ignited a political controversy by launching an HS2 review with the aim of scrapping northern section, which is intended to transport trains from Birmingham and Manchester.

Burnham wrote to the Prime Minister in a letter, saying that the northern part of England shouldn’t be forced into choosing between HS2 or the proposed east-west Northern Powerhouse Rail route (NPR), which would connect Liverpool and Leeds.

He added that “if you insist on making changes to [HS2] then we would be open to a conversation about prioritising northern section of line between Manchester Airport and Manchester Piccadilly in order to enable NPR to build first”. The Cost of HS2 The cost of the project has risen from £70 billion  to £91 billion  in a few months.

The construction of the line connecting London to Birmingham has begun. Sunak is hoping to save tens or even hundreds of billions by removing the section of HS2 from Birmingham to Manchester. It has also prepared a package for alternative funding in northern England to compensate for cutting half of Europe’s largest infrastructure project.

He is looking at a variety of light rail projects, improvements to buses, tram schemes, and accelerating NPR.

NPR has more political support in northern England than HS2, because it will connect cities that have notoriously bad transport links. However, the project is still in its early stages of development.

Burnham’s letter stated that any support of Sunak’s plan “would be contingent on two things”: the completion of NPR, with an underground station in Manchester Piccadilly, and a new route via Bradford; and a commitment to not scrap HS2 in Manchester, but rather rephase it. Bev Craig was also the leader of Manchester City Council.

Local leaders dispute the cost estimate of an additional £5bn. The government is currently deciding whether or not to build the Manchester Piccadilly underground station.

NPR and HS2 are also interconnected because approximately 15 miles of high-speed rail would be part of a link between Manchester Airport and Manchester Piccadilly, in the centre of the city. The cost of NPR would be increased if the northern leg was cancelled.

William Barter, a rail planner and independent consultant, said: “You could do NPR without the HS2, but it would be much more expensive.”

Boris Johnson, then prime minister, downgraded the plans for NPR in 2021 as part of an overall attempt to reduce the cost of HS2, which included a reduction of part of the original route between Birmingham and Leeds.

The original PS39bn NPR vision included construction of a direct line from Leeds to Manchester, via Bradford.

It was replaced with a hybrid model worth £17bn, which included a new route from Manchester to Marsden near Huddersfield and upgrades to the existing Transpennine Line from there to Leeds.

Burnham may find it difficult to accept the idea that the government will revert back to the more expensive original plan of a £39bn NPR connecting Bradford with Leeds and Manchester.

Supporters of HS2 have pointed out that NPR capital spending is problematic.

It is expensive to share the 15-mile HS2 line with NPR because it goes through Manchester’s urban areas and includes two new stations.

One person familiar with the project said: “You would be building the most expensive part of [HS2] and then not connecting it up to Birmingham.”

Barter stated that ministers in theory could shift spending from HS2 towards NPR. He added that the government would not want to spend money on NPR if HS2 was not there.

George Osborne (former Tory chancellor and supporter of HS2) said recently on his podcast that it was impossible to build new railways overnight.

“It is all well and good to cancel this leg. . . You cancel this leg which is 13 years work preparation, planning at parliament, endless study.

“Then, you are basically saying that nothing will be built since it would take years to design a. . . “A line running across the Pennines.”

Sunak will likely decide to terminate HS2 in Southern England at Old Oak Common, in outer London rather than Euston, in the heart of the UK capital.

Old Oak Common is only able to accommodate six platforms, which could be a problem for any plans to build the northern leg of HS2 from Birmingham to Manchester.

The government halted the redevelopment of Euston in June for HS2, which would have included 10 platforms, allowing more trains from northern England to unload passengers.

One official said: “If they cancel Euston they will jeopardize any chance to have a regular high speed rail service from north.”