Daily Mail

Blow to levelling up as HS2 extension shunted into sidings for 2 years

- By David Churchill Chief Political Correspond­ent

HS2 and dozens of road projects were delayed yesterday to cut costs, putting economic growth and the Government’s levelling up agenda at risk.

The controvers­ial rail project’s Birmingham to Crewe leg – known as Phase 2a – will be delayed by two years, Transport Secretary Mark Harper said.

It raises the prospect of the Crewe to Manchester section – part of Phase 2b – also being pushed back.

Phase 2a was originally supposed to open between 2030 and 2034, but may now not do so until 2036. Crewe to Manchester was due to open between 2035 and 2041, but may not until 2043.

Mr Harper also hinted at delays to trains running into London Euston, saying opening the line between Old Oak Common and Birmingham will be ‘prioritise­d’. It means HS2 may not now reach central London until the 2040s.

Old Oak Common is north-west of London and will be a key hub before trains continue into the capital. A new terminal at Euston exclusivel­y to serve HS2 trains may be scaled back after already being down-graded once.

It is the latest setback to Britain’s biggest- ever infrastruc­ture project, which has been plagued by delays and spiralling costs. Motorists also face further traffic chaos following the decision

‘We can’t ignore the current realities’

to delay major roads projects, many of which were designed to reduce congestion. The £ 7billion Lower Thames Crossing project will be delayed by at least two years.

Its purpose had been to reduce congestion at the Dartford Crossing.

Projects create a bypass on the A27 near Arundel, West Sussex, and to build a road to improve access to the Port of Liverpool will also be delayed.

More than 30 road projects in total are understood to be being pushed back – many in the North, which had been considered a key part of the Government’s promise to level up the country.

In a written statement, Mr Harper stated: ‘ This Government sees transport investment as a down payment on the country’s future and is committing £20billion over each of the next two years to improve the UK’s transport network. But we can’t ignore the current realities. Putin’s war in Ukraine has hiked up inflation, sending supply chain costs rocketing.

‘The responsibl­e decisions I’ve outlined today will ensure we balance the budget at the same time as investing record sums in our transport network.’

But Labour’s transport spokesman Louise Haigh said: ‘Tens of thousands of jobs and billions in economic growth are dependent on this project. The North is yet again being asked to pay the price for staggering Conservati­ve failure.’ Business leaders warned the move could lead to higher costs. John Foster, of the Confederat­ion of British Industry, said: ‘[Delays] can ultimately lead to higher overall costs and slow down the UK’s transition to a better, faster and greener transport network.’

The announceme­nt also sparked anger from Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle because Mr Harper made a statement in writing rather than verbally.

The setbacks come ahead of Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s spring Budget next Wednesday, when he is expected to keep a tight rein on spending. Henri Murison, of the Northern Powerhouse Partnershi­p, said: ‘Delaying projects – whether it’s train lines or hospitals – doesn’t make them cheaper, it only holds back economic benefits.’

RAC roads policy chief Nicholas Lyes said: ‘It’s understand­able inflation is having an impact but some of these schemes are much needed to help relieve existing congestion hotspots.’

HS2 has been dogged by criticism over its finances. A budget of £55.7billion for the whole project was set in 2015 but the target cost has ballooned to £71billion.

HS2 has hit the buffers again. To cut costs, Transport Secretary Mark Harper is delaying part of the high-speed railway by another two years. It is already vastly over budget and behind schedule, while demand for trains has plummeted. But this vacillatio­n over HS2 just adds to a sense of dither. We should either build the thing in its entirety or not at all.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom