Andy Burnham meets with Transport Secretary amid efforts to salvage 'something' from scrapped HS2 northern leg

31 January 2024, 12:58 | Updated: 31 January 2024, 13:22

HS2 demolished six houses in Wendover, Buckinghamshire as part of the works for HS2 High Speed Rail construction from London to Birmingham
HS2 demolished six houses in Wendover, Buckinghamshire as part of the works for HS2 High Speed Rail construction from London to Birmingham. Picture: Alamy

By Chris Chambers

The Metro Mayor for Manchester, Andy Burnham, has held “constructive talks” with the Transport Secretary in London today over plans to try and salvage something from the failed HS2 project.

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Phase 2 between the Midlands and the North West was cancelled by the Prime Minister back in October because of escalating costs, but Mr Burnham has been trying to salvage something from the ruins.

However, he insists this is not a case of trying to resurrect the HS2 project and will focus on trying to raise the money from the private sector.

Mr Burnham and West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, who was also present at the meeting, issued a statement to LBC: "We have today held constructive talks with the Secretary of State for Transport, the Rail Minister, and senior officials from the DfT regarding our work to look at how we improve connectivity between the West Midlands and Greater Manchester.

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"Our work is centred on the strategic economic case for connectivity between the two regions, and the potential private sector funding models and interventions needed to accelerate both connectivity and growth. Ultimately there are capacity challenges on the West Coast Main Line between Birmingham and Manchester, and so we have decided to seek the help of the best private sector brains to look at how we might creatively resolve that without a significant bill on the public purse.

"We were joined at today’s meeting by Sir David Higgins, who is chairing the group we have convened, and representatives from Arup who are leading on the work. We are immensely thankful to both for stepping forward, as well as to the other companies who have got involved in the work – not least Mace, EY, and Arcadis.

"Following today’s constructive meeting we will be reconvening as a wider group in Birmingham next week to flesh out our plans. After this we expect to be in a position to talk more about our work, and the options we are exploring to enhance connectivity between our two great regions.

"Finally we would like to make it clear that this work is not an attempt to revive HS2, it is about finding a different way of solving what is a national priority of better rail connectivity between our city-regions."

Anti-HS2 campaigners believe the idea is a "pipe-dream".

Chris Tarrant is a resident in Pickmere and told LBC: "I don't think for a moment most people thought that HS2 was anything other than an enormous vanity project, but our impression of that has been proven right.

"While I understand Mr Burnham may wish to pursue a pipe-dream, I cannot realistically see they are going to raise the necessary investment to make that reality happen."

Graham Dellow, a resident of Holmes Chapel, told LBC: "Keir Starmer has said he will not reinstate it. I don't believe they can raise anything like what is needed to build this railway. If they can, the money would be better diverted to building Northern Powerhouse Rail that the North of England does need. What we want is better routes across the Pennines and to Liverpool, we don't need to get to London half an hour quicker."

Sarah Flannery, a resident in Pickmere, said: "Why should that public money go into a numpty scheme in the first place? I think people will rightly ask what is the purpose of that? The whole scheme was based on the value of time spent... shorter journeys. We were going to have trains running faster and more intensively on this little island than anywhere else in the World. Nobody looked at what the situation is for ultra-high-speed rail projects elsewhere int he world, many of which have been cancelled for the same reasons we have discovered... escalating costs."

Restrictions preventing the development of land earmarked for part of the HS2 project have been lifted.

The Transport Secretary, Mark Harper, announced earlier this month that he had ended safeguarding for Phase 2a between the West Midlands and Crewe, meaning land on the route can be developed in a way that would conflict with building the high speed railway.

In a written statement to Parliament, Mr Harper said he is "formally lifting the safeguarding directions".

He went on: "By lifting safeguarding, the Government provides certainty to people along the former route of HS2 and makes development easier, as HS2 Ltd will no longer object to proposed development in the area to which the safeguarding directions had applied."