Levelling Up is finished, Rishi Sunak warned ahead of HS2 announcement
Construction of the high-speed rail link between London, Birmingham and Manchester is still ongoing, with land still being bought up in the North of England with costs continuing to rise.
The Prime Minister was on Monday warned by Tory grandees, mayors and leading figures in the Levelling Up movement
It has been suggested that a package has been signed off by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, with speculation that improvements to other Northern transport links could be announced in a bit to soften the blow of the announcement at Conservative conference in Manchester.
Downing Street has insisted that “no final decisions” have been made, but it is expected that Cabinet will sign off the axing of the Northern leg of the line ahead of Mr Sunak’s speech on Wednesday.
Both Andy Street, the Tory Mayor of the West Midlands, and Andy Burnham, the Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester, called on the Government to rethink the decision.
Mr Street did not rule out resigning if the Government pressed ahead with the move which will hit the financial plans for Manchester, Birmingham and the surrounding areas.
“You will be turning your back on an opportunity to level up – a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” he told reporters at the conference.
Despite suggestions that an expansion of Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) could be announced to link northern cities, much of the infrastructure involved may well be cut under the expected announcement of HS2 cutbacks.
Neither the Chancellor nor Transport Secretary Mark Harper mentioned the future of HS2 in their conference speeches despite continued reports that it would be scaled back.
Mr Hunt admitted on BBC Breakfast to flying to the conference because his train was cancelled.
Henri Murison, the chief executive of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said: “It is madness to leave what was meant to be the UK’s flagship infrastructure project like this.
“Unless we can protect the hybrid bill, which is currently going through parliament and which authorises the tunnel between Manchester and Manchester Airport, this means the end for Northern Powerhouse Rail and levelling up as a whole is finished.
“We urge the prime minister to listen to the business community about what this would mean for inward investment, for jobs and the UK’s international reputation. We can only deliver value for money on HS2 by bringing it to the North.”