Rishi Sunak sets out 'transformational' £4.7bn 'local transport fund' from HS2's axed northern leg

26 February 2024, 11:41 | Updated: 26 February 2024, 16:29

Rishi Sunak has said the decision to take money from the scrapped HS2 northern leg to fund other transport links will be "transformational".
Rishi Sunak has said the decision to take money from the scrapped HS2 northern leg to fund other transport links will be "transformational". Picture: Alamy
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Scrapping the northern leg of HS2 and redirecting the funds to local transportation schemes has been hailed as "transformational" by Rishi Sunak, who stated that the decision signifies a significant shift in government focus.

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With a looming general election and the Conservative Party striving to maintain support in traditional Labour strongholds, the Prime Minister convened his senior team in northern England for a Cabinet meeting to underscore the importance of transport funding.

A total of £4.7 billion has been designated for the North and Midlands, with £2.5 billion earmarked for the North and £2.2 billion for the Midlands, repurposed from the abandoned HS2 rail project.

However, this funding will not become available until April 2025. The government intends for these funds to be funnelled into a "local transport fund," to be utilised by smaller cities, towns, and rural areas, with local authorities having the discretion to determine the most effective allocation.

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

Read more: Cost of HS2 London to Birmingham line 'could soar to nearly £67 billion'

But Henri Murison, chief executive of the business group the Northern Powerhouse Partnership said the plans are simply a re-announcement.

He said: "I'm still kind of happy to receive this money in place of nothing but it is also coming alongside the fact that many of these same communities will not benefit from HS2 and we still haven't got enough clarity on Northern Powerhouse Rail, which is still a very important and fundamental part of the North transport system.

"We haven't got the clarity out of the route that was supposed to be announced imminently and instead the Government, rather than going to the north-west, which I would have liked them to do and announced that they are definitely going to do Northern Powerhouse Rail, that it's going to go from Manchester to Manchester Airport, through towards Liverpool, instead they come and re-announce something here in Yorkshire.

"I don't fundamentally understand why on earth the cabinet is coming to simply announce something that they already told us about."

Labour accused the government of hypocrisy, citing past failures to deliver on transportation promises.

However, the Prime Minister defended the decision, emphasising the immediate benefits being realised through local investment in transportation infrastructure.

"We could have carried on with a project that was going to cost well over £100 billion, take decades and have a very specific set of benefits, whereas I made a different decision.

"I said 'I'm going to take that money, and instead I'm going to give it to local areas to spend on their local transport priorities'.

"And that's already started to happen. So local authorities have already got money at the end of last year for more road resurfacing and potholes. They're going to get more of that this year. We've already capped bus fares at £2.

"And today we're announcing several years of funding that local areas are going to get for their local transport priority.

"So our plans are already delivering benefits to people and, I think, will be transformational for spreading opportunity, improving connectivity across the North and Midlands in a way that's never happened before."

The decision to scrap the northern leg of HS2 and put the money into local transport schemes will be "transformational", Rishi Sunak claimed as the Government earmarked £4.7 billion of funding for the north and Midlands.
The decision to scrap the northern leg of HS2 and put the money into local transport schemes will be "transformational", Rishi Sunak claimed as the Government earmarked £4.7 billion of funding for the north and Midlands. Picture: Alamy

The Cabinet meeting in Yorkshire and the Humber marked a departure from the usual London-centric gatherings and it was hoped the move would underscore the government's commitment to regional engagement.

The last time ministers gathered outside of London was for emergency talks ahead of the announcement that HS2 would be scaled back at last year's Tory conference in Manchester - the city most directly hit by the U-turn.

The Government says the new funding allocations will provide local authorities with long-term certainty over the amount they have to spend on transport services their communities need the most, for example expanding mass transit systems, filling potholes, roadbuilding or refurbishing bus and rail stations.

West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin told LBC News: "This is not visionary. It's not strategic.

"The money is welcome, but this patchwork quilt offer is not a strategic transformational plan.

"If this was going to be a transformational plan, then it would also address the capacity issues at Leeds station and also at Manchester.

"This is no way to run a country. This is no way to plan transport on the back of a fag packet. It doesn't even touch the sides because it feels like it's somebody's great idea that has hasn't been thought through. And more to the point, not even discussed with local leaders."

Watch again: Nick Ferrari is joined by Transport Secretary Mark Harper | 26/02/24

Labour ridiculed what it described as a "back of a fag packet plan" and said communities are "sick and tired" of empty promises.

Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said: "The Tories have failed and local people are sick and tired of this Government taking them for fools.

"Only the Conservatives could have the brass neck to promise yet another 'transformation' of transport infrastructure in the Midlands and North after 14 years of countless broken promises to do just that."

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