FSB GM responds to cancellation of HS2

Local News 4 Oct 2023

Rishi Sunak’s cancelling of HS2 north of Birmingham will ultimately create a bigger North/South divide, the Federation of Small Businesses has said.

The business organisation said the news was a huge blow to Greater Manchester’s ambitions for growth and improved connectivity, and would be viewed by many across the North as tantamount to cancelling the entire Levelling Up agenda.

FSB also questioned where this left the Northern Powerhouse Rail project, which it said would likely now face years of delays if it needed to go back to the drawing board due to how closely it was interwoven with HS2 infrastructure. 

Robert Downes, FSB Development Manager in Greater Manchester, said: “For a lot of people HS2 was and is the corner stone of Levelling Up. That is a project now dead in the water.

“HS2 was also an enabler for Northern Powerhouse Rail to happen. The facts are we don’t get one without the other, so without HS2, what now becomes of NPR which is key to improved east-west connectivity between Liverpool and Hull?

“When commentators said years go that HS2 building work should start in the North, this is exactly why. Today’s announcement ensures a lasting impact for future generations who will be left with north/south rail connectivity reliant on an overloaded Victorian network that’s not fit for purpose today, never mind in 20 or 30 years’ time.

“Improving east-west links across the North of England and the Midlands is absolutely vital, but so is connecting them into the national network, as would have happened by connecting Northern Powerhouse rail to HS2.”

He added: “The Government’s own analysis showed HS2 together with NPR, would add £9bn to GMs economy each year; £24bn to the pan-Northern economy annually, and create almost 100,000 jobs. This would improve capacity, connectivity, and help to level up the productivity gap with London. None of that will be now realised.

“We need urgent clarification from Government on what Plan C really looks like – in detail and with timescales. The big concern is that this sounds very much like a case of ‘back to the drawing board’, a complete reboot of major infrastructure design and engineering certainly for east-west rail plans, and back to square one for Levelling Up. The devil will be in the detail, of which there is precious little.

“The new or improved projects need to be assessed for benefits on capacity and connectivity for both passengers and freight, to set them against what has been lost from HS2 today. Ultimately, the responsibility is now on the Government to prove that these new decisions will deliver value for money for taxpayers and make life easier for small business.”

Meet the author

Robert Downes

Robert Downes

Greater Manchester Development Manager