Listen to this article here
Following Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s cancellation of the HS2 rail link between Birmingham and Manchester, £19.8 billion worth of transport investment has been announced for the North of England as funds assigned to the project are redistributed.
Rishi Sunak announced the cancellation of the project in Manchester at the Conservative Party Conference following weeks of media speculation, and instead committed to seeing funds that would be spent on constructing the line were redistributed to smaller-scale projects throughout the country that would see more immediate benefits. Nationally, the Network North proposals (which include investment in all regions in England outside London, as well as North Wales), set out £36 billion worth of investment into road, rail, bus and tram infrastructure across the country.
National projects include a major programme to tackle potholes on roads across England, and extension of the local bus fare cap that will see single fares held at £2 until December 2024.
In Greater Manchester, Rishi Sunak announced a second City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement, worth approximately £1.5 billion, for TfGM to fund improvements to key radial bus corridors throughout the city-region, as well as Metrolink extensions to Bolton and Wigan.
An extension to Manchester Airport, which opened in 2014, was also announced by Rishi Sunak during his speech and that the Department for Transport has since clarified to the MEN refers to a line that would directly serve Terminal 2, in addition to the existing link. Extension to the Metrolink to Stockport, the viability and business case for which is currently being explored by TfGM, has also not been included in the plans.
£500 million in funding will be provided for two major road schemes around Manchester, including work to reduce congestion on the M60 through a new link road between the M62 and M60. Electrification works on intercity rail routes across the North worth £3 billion were also announced by the Prime Minister, including through Stockport between Manchester and Sheffield, with faster electric trains able to reach Hull from Manchester in under 90 minutes.
£12 billion will also support improved links between Liverpool and Manchester to ensure the delivery of Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) in addition to the funds reallocated from HS2. NPR had been expected to share track with HS2 between Manchester Airport and Manchester Piccadilly – plans for how this proposed link will now pass through the city-region have not been confirmed.
Despite the announcements in more local projects, business and political voices in the North have been critical of the Prime Minister’s cancellation of HS2. Liverpool City Region Mayor, Steve Rotheram, decried the fact that money expected for the North was “to be spent down south for potholes” as leaving the region with a second class system.
Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce’s Director of Policy, Chris Fletcher, also warned that the region would be sceptical of further promised investment, calling new proposals a “back of a beer mat plan”. He said:
“Whilst this may sound like a better use of the money with new lines promised and road schemes included too the simple fact is that irrespective of what it is called we are still no nearer getting the transport network that we actually needed years ago to unlock the north’s potential. We have been promised a lot before and nothing has been done and this latest attempt from government will be treated with cynicism and scepticism by a lot of people.
“HS2 was a major investment opportunity for the UK that would unburden a worn-out network already at over capacity; boost the country’s net zero ambitions and open up labour markets and job opportunities on a scale like never before. Plus it was also a cornerstone of Northern Powerhouse Rail. Network North has to deliver all this and more and in a shorter timescale if this government is to have any credibility and successive government’s performance on this over the last decade has not been great.”