The setback has been described as ‘another betrayal of the Midlands and the North, making a mockery of the government's empty promises to level up the UK economy.’
Transport secretary Mark Harper announced this week that the government will delay construction of the HS2 line that connects Birmingham to Crewe for another two years.
Harper also said there will be delays to key road projects, pinning the setbacks on the pressures of soaring inflation and rising costs. In a written statement, he said: “The government is committed to delivering HS2 Phase 2a between Birmingham and Crewe. We have seen significant inflationary pressure and increased project costs, and so we will rephase construction by two years, with an aim to deliver high-speed services to Crewe and the northwest as soon as possible after accounting for the delay in construction.”
The announcement attracted criticism and is said to be another blow to people of the north of England and the so-called ‘levelling up’ agenda.
Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh MP said: “Conservative chaos and chronic indecision is holding back jobs, growth and costing the taxpayer.”
She added: “This is the biggest project in Europe and delays pile costs up in the long run – ministers now need to come clean on precisely how much their indecision will cost taxpayers and the north.”
Ian Ward, leader of Birmingham City Council, said any decision to delay part of the route represents “another betrayal of the Midlands and the North, making a mockery of the government’s empty promises to level up the UK economy.”
In a video message posted on Twitter, the Labour councillor said: “HS2 has the potential to deliver economic growth across the country, but it is being undermined by the government at every turn.
“We will only truly see the full benefits of HS2 when Birmingham and the Midlands are at the very heart of a national network.
“So another delay represents a massive blow to this once-in-a-generation opportunity to re-balance the UK economy.”
Henri Murison, chief executive of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said the decision was “disappointing.” He said delaying projects “doesn’t make them cheaper, it only holds back economic benefits and increases the overall scheme costs further in the long run,” adding: “We’re paying a huge price for the endless dithering during Boris Johnson’s premiership.”
HS2 (High Speed 2), which will connect Manchester, Birmingham, and London, has been the topic of much debate since it was first announced in 2009 by the Labour government. It has been condemned by environmental activists for the impact its construction will have on biodiversity and wildlife in the UK.
The project has been sold by the government as part of efforts to ‘level up’ the country and close the north-south divide. ‘Levelling up’ was a flagship policy in the 2019 Tory manifesto and was regularly touted by Boris Johnson as prime minister. Though research in 2022 showed that there were still galling inadequacies of the ‘levelling up’ promise, and that inequalities had been further entrenched under Johnson’s leadership.
This latest blow to the development of HS2 and the ‘levelling up’ agenda, follows warnings that the north-south divide will widen if the government fails to urgently rethink its levelling up approach. In February, Yorkshire received £120 million in government funding for projects compared to the £210 million London and the south-east were awarded. Sarah Champion, Labour MP in Rotherham, Yorkshire, wrote to the levelling up secretary Michael Gove about the disparity, saying it was “bizarre” to see London receive vastly more cash.
“Levelling up is nothing more than a buzzword,” she added. “The government has shown all to clearly that, whatever, it claims, it is simply entrenching existing inequalities.
“If it is serious about developing the northern economy and investing in our communities, it should put its money where its mouth is.
“This is simply more of the same from a government that neither understands, nor cares about the north.”
Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward