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The Giant HS2 u-turn

Posted: 4 October 2023 | | No comments yet

Following the Prime Minister’s speech at Conservative Party Conference, the High Speed Rail Group and other industry figures respond to the cuts announcement to the northern leg of HS2.

PM

“Today’s news is a devastating blow to our industry and our whole economy. For 15 years we have worked with the government to develop this project – their project – taking it from a concept to construction. Companies have invested in people, skills and equipment on the back of it with some even relocating in anticipation of it being completed.

It is true the costs of the project have risen over those 15 years. In recent years inflation has been rampant in the Ueconomy and the construction sector has been impacted far more than most. But the principal cause of any real term cost increases lies in the chopping and changing of the project’s scope, with today’s news being the fourth major change by government in just three years. As any project manager will tell you, the cheapest way to deliver is against a fixed scope without constant changes. This is the biggest and most damaging U-turn in the history of UK infrastructure.

What we have now is a plan for a railway that will not deliver the transformational benefits the north of England needs. Indeed, the solution proposed by the Prime Minister is a recipe for disaster. Merging HS2 trains onto existing lines at Birmingham will create a huge bottleneck, akin to the M40 merging onto an A-road and then a country lane – rather than the M6. Rail connectivity to the north will be worse than it is today. 

That’s why it is inconceivable that HS2 will not eventually reach Manchester. Today the industry recommits to delivering the first phase as efficiently as it can, whilst continuing to make the case that this should be just the beginning of a network that reaches Manchester, Leeds and many more cities. We stand ready to work on those future developments. 

The proposed investments through ‘Network North’ is an interesting one and of course welcome. But cancelling Phase 2 of HS2 frees up just £1-3 billion in the next five years, meaning any improvements are still far over the horizon. 

If we want to truly level up our country, it cannot be a choice between HS2 and other projects. The UK needs 21st century infrastructure, bringing all of its cities closer together. HS2 is the key foundation for that network. Every other major European country has managed to build a high speed rail network, recognising it’s a vital part of a modern society and economy for years to come. We’d like to think Britain still could too.”

Birmingham

Philippa Spence, Chair of the Energy Industries Council (EIC) and a Board Member of the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) in addition to being UK MD at Ramboll,  explains the ripple effect on jobs and growth created by cutting major capital projects.

Philippa commented: “The axing of the northern leg of HS2 is a devastating blow. Major Capital Projects like HS2 have an incredible economic multiplier effect which enables skills growth and world-leading innovation in technology and construction techniques. When such projects are cut, there is a ripple effect on jobs and growth through many sectors. We haven’t seen the likes of anything as significant as the recent infrastructure rollback the government is leading for a long time, so will the replacement Network North deliver the growth we need?”

“The scale of the pause or reversal on major infrastructure projects such as the northern leg of HS2 has a ripple effect on skills. Companies in the construction sector who are reliant on it will suffer as a result. The ability to bring in early career staff, be they graduates or apprentices, gets curtailed and that then has knock-on effects that can roll forward for decades.”

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