The government has cast more doubt on the full plans for the HS2 railway, announcing delays to the existing planned railway and rethinking further extensions.
In a written statement to Parliament, Transport Secretary Mark Harper said that the priority now for the railway is to deliver the line between London’s Old Oak Common and Birmingham’s Curzon Street stations.
However, there will be some more rethinking of the station design at Euston to keep costs down, to deliver it alongside the extension from Birmingham to Crewe and Manchester. However the extension north of Birmingham will open two years later than planned, with the line to Crewe now opening in around 2036, and the line to Manchester not opening for another 20 years — arriving in 2043. However, those dates are not confirmed, only that a delay of a few years is expected, and a lack of certainty when the railway will open holds back investment by companies in the areas that would benefit from the line.
With the linking of Euston station to the Birmingham extension in the Minister’s statement, it’s implied that Euston station, currently expected to open by 2036 could also be delayed into the 2040s.
These delays also mean that people who live or work near HS2 construction sites can expect to live next to the disruption for many years more than they had been led to believe.
On that issue, the Leader of Camden Council, Councillor Georgia Gould says that “The community around Euston have lost homes, schools and businesses to HS2. They’ve already lived through years of disruption with no end in sight. If there is a delay, HS2 must not forget the promises they made to our community and must continue to deliver on them.”
The minister also confirmed that they work to develop HS2 East, the proposed route for HS2 services between the West and East Midlands, and to consider the most effective way to take HS2 trains to Leeds.
The announcement from the government didn’t go down well, with the business organisation, the CBI with John Foster, the CBI’s policy unit programme director saying that “this news will ultimately reduce investor and contractor confidence in the rail sector.”
“Delays to projects may create short-term savings, but they can ultimately lead to higher overall costs and slow down the UK’s transition to a better, faster and greener transport network”
Again, the talk is all about cost-cutting for the current generation, not building a railway infrastructure that will be around for 200 years at the very least.
Considering the transformational impact that HS2 was intended to deliver, offering fast links between cities and freeing up huge amounts of capacity to boost regional and commuter travel, cutting into HS2’s capacity to deliver at a time when costs are rising is to leave the country with the risk of an expensive railway that offers limited benefits. Much of the benefit accrues from the second phase of the railway, so building the first bit and delaying the rest is a phyric victory for the bean counters.
The government has already spent £20 billion on the HS2 railway over the past decade, and as it’s funded by infrastructure borrowing which is repaid over decades, it’s not a constraint on current spending on services (hospitals, schools etc), so cost-cutting today simply impoverishes the future generations who will use the railway.
That £20 billion spent over the past decade pales in comparison to the £40 billion the government will spend over just the next two years on transport infrastructure upgrades. HS2’s annual cost is less than a tenth of that, so the impact on government spending of pushing ahead with HS2 as quickly as possible is minimal.
As TfL learned to its cost with the Elizabeth line, delays not only push up the cost of building the railway, they also delay when you can start earning money from it. Delays are a double hit to the purse.
Andy Bagnall, chief executive for the industry group, Rail Partners said “While inflationary pressures make infrastructure projects more challenging, it is critical for Britain’s economy and meeting net zero targets that large sections of HS2 are not delayed which will ultimately increase the overall cost.”
In his statement to Parliament, the Minister cited high inflation at the moment as a reason to delay the railway, but inflation doesn’t go negative unless something very bad happens to the economy, so delaying the project doesn’t save money, it makes it even more expensive. The only way that a delay can save money is if the savings identified exceeds the rate of inflation, and that would require such a substantial cut to the railway that it would render much of its function redundant.
At the moment, the scheme is building a large railway bypass between London and Birmingham, but over half the capacity boosting the capacity of the railway only kicks in with the extensions to Manchester and Leeds, which are now delayed, or outright cancelled.
This is an infrastructure project that’s supposed to be improving transport between the cities well into the 23rd century. That’s not supposed to be the opening date.