Nuno Gil, Professor of New Infrastructure Development at The University of Manchester argues that HS2 is a relay race, and the Chancellor’s Budget needs to make a strong commitment to completing the final leg by 2032.
- Due to uncertainty around the fiscal health of the country, it’s more important than ever that the Government remakes a clear commitment to build the final leg of HS2
- Not connecting Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester would devalue the whole HS2 proposition
- In an ideal world, we would also see firm commitments on Crossrail 2 and HS3 in this Budget
The uncertainty around the fiscal health of the country makes it more important than ever that the Government remakes a clear commitment to build the final leg of HS2, confusingly called (is it on purpose?) Phase 2b: Crewe to Manchester, and the West Midlands to Leeds by 2032.
We believe this is still the plan, and Government is working hard to submit around 2019 the hybrid bill for Phase2b so implementation can start a few years later. However, there are reasons for concern that if the fiscal situation of the country deteriorates further, Government may choose to procrastinate. Doubt around this should be a reason of great concern to all taxpayers, and Government needs to nip that in the bud.
From the onset, HS2 has never been conceptualised as if extending the route to Leeds and Manchester was an option. The HS2 Y-shape network is an indivisible whole. The fact that there are phases – originally just two, the first up to Birmingham and the second north of Birmingham (Phase 2a linking Birmingham to Crewe came much later) – is just a pragmatic administrative arrangement to simplify the hybrid bill process (which would otherwise take 10 years or more!). But in no way should administrative pragmatism be interpreted as if the so-called Phase 2b is an option —it is not. This last leg or phase, whatever Government chooses to call it, is vital to the HS2 business case.
Government would have never been allowed to make a massive capital-investment in a high-speed railway line up to Birmingham (later extended to Crewe) unless it had committed upfront to take that line to Leeds and Manchester. Not connecting these major northern cities would devalue the whole HS2 proposition. It would be a drain on public resources. The fact of the matter is the business case for the first phase -whether it stops in Birmingham or Crewe – alone is not solid, and it would jeopardise HS2’s potential to catalyse socio-economic growth in the Northern Regions. The HS2 project is a relay race—you have no chances of winning unless you complete all the legs.
Final note. In an ideal world, we would also see firm commitments on Crossrail 2 and HS3. The twin commitments on Crossrail 2 and HS3 were part of a sensible integrated railway strategy for HS2 in London and the North of England. It will be interesting to see if there is a reaffirmation of these commitments in the budget too. We cannot avoid a sense of disappointment that our challenging times may force Government to demur commitment to those. But if that is the case, more than ever it matters Government reaffirms its commitment to taking HS2 to Manchester and Leeds by 2032.