4 October, 2023
About Manchester, by Nigel Barlow

The irony wouldn’t have been lost on the fact that Andy Burnham and Manchester Council leader Bev Craig held their post HS2 shelved press conference on the original platform of the first commercial railway that ran between Manchester and Liverpool

It was just over two hours since the Prine Minister Rishi Sunak put the, in the words of Craig,the final nail in the coffin of a 21st Century High Speed Link between Manchester and London and replaced it with an unproved commitment to spend money on better transport infrastructure in the North with the promise that you will get to Bradford in 30 minutes.

It’s taken 13 years and seven Prime Ministers to get to this position.a decision thst according to Andy Burnham was decided over the past few days in hotel rooms in the Midland and announced also ironically in a once disused station

Burnham repeated his sound bites that we have heard over the past few days including how the people of the North have been treated with disrespect

“Does this country have the will within it to actually prioritise the north of England?”

“I don’t see how you can take a plan, that goes beyond the life of any individual government… & basically tear it up at a party conference… this city region was entitled to more respect than it’s been given.”

He promises,when the information is available to work around what will be planned and see if it can be turned into a credible solution for the North’s infrastructure

Craig meanwhile told us that that the decision was a political one and was not based on monetary facts.She described it as a kick in the teeth for the City,a decision that was meant to be above party politics only to be kicked into touch by the seventh Prime Minister since the initial decision was taken

Indeed former PM David Cameron has tweeted this afternoon

”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.”

While Tory Mayor for the West Midlands Andy Street said We’re supposed to be a leading member of the G7 and we can’t even build a railway between London and Manchester.”

But back to the moneyside

Dr Zeeshan Syed, Lecturer in Finance at the University of Salford Business School reminds us that the cost of the whole project was initially estimated at £37.5 bn (2009 prices), the project’s cost rose to £78.4 bn by 2015 (as reviewed by Allan Cook) and is estimated at £110bn in 2019 (as reviewed by Lord Berkeley).

These figures have not been adjusted for inflation, implying the increases result from cost overruns and operational inefficiencies.

Notably, there were projections for HS2 to realise efficiency gains between 2015 and 2017.

Given the current inflation rates and expectations of prolonged high interest rates, the financial implications warrant thorough examination.

According to analysis by Britain Remade, the stretch of HS2 from London to Birmingham will cost £396m per mile, making it one of the world’s most expensive railways.

In France, similar projects cost £46m per mile.

There is no doubt that the project up to now has not been managed well,emphasised by Sunak’s announcement over the extension to Euston but should the North suffer because of that?

Of course we are a maximum of 15 months before a potential change of Government? Would Labour reverse the decision?

Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh said “Is there anything more emblematic of 13 years of dismal failure by this broken government than their flagship levelling-up project that fails to even reach the north?

But will Kier Starmer and a fiscally responsible Chancellor Rachel Reeves who has already paired back green investment reinstate this project? As Craig said to us they will need to see where the finances of HS2 and Northern Powerhouse rail are but they remain committed to the North having the transport it needs

Moving forward there are some practicalities.Rishi Sunak hasn’t just scrapped HS2 phase 2b into Manchester but also phase 2a from Birmingham to Crewe – which has already received royal assent while 2b is currently going through Parliament

When running for the leadership in July 2022 Sunak said that he supported the scheme and in fact he also said he wanted to reinstate the Birmingham-Leeds leg which was axed by Boris Johnson

So Will Andy Burnham and the other Northern leaders be able to pull something out if the fire-Will there ever be a super underground station at Piccadilly and how quickly will High Speed trains be running on the existing West Coast line north of Birmingham?