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Train in vain – bus replacement for the North as HS2 hits the buffers


The worst kept secret of the conference season was out on Wednesday, as Rishi Sunak formally announced the cancellation of the northern leg of HS2, in a city that would benefit most from it.

Instead of providing much-needed connectivity between the North and the South, we have a quicker commute for those who travel between the Midlands and the South East.

In true British bus-replacement style – a grand plan for Network North was announced to replace it. Interesting how on Tuesday, he vehemently insisted that he was not going to make a quick decision on HS2, but in less than 24 hours, a new 40-page plan for the North had been signed off.

Quite the all-nighter.

As expected, the decision has been met with widespread condemnation from fellow politicians, business leaders and industry experts. Most of the criticism centres on whether the UK will ever be able to commit to – or be trusted with – long-term infrastructure projects following the volte-face decision.

Even ex-PM David Cameron highlighted how this decision could set a precedent and make it more difficult to progress any future substantial projects. Everyone can agree costs were spiralling out of control – that isn’t something that’s being disputed.

What the Government doesn’t seem to grasp is the damning message this sends to the North. The Tories have long been criticised for their disconnect with the North of the UK and whilst they have sought to replace HS2 with a jazzy ‘new’ plan, most of it isn’t new at all.

Initial analysis from Labour finds 85% of the plan had already been promised or committed to since the Conservatives came to power in 2010. Some of it, like their promise to expand the Metrolink in Manchester, so it connects to Manchester Airport, already exists. And has done for many years.

Those from the construction and infrastructure industry will be feeling particularly browbeaten and rightly bemused.

There is now a focus on reallocating the costs, but what they’re missing is what HS2 could have delivered other than the railway itself. The cancellation says goodbye to the creation of thousands of jobs, new skillsets and a boost in local economies.

Those in the built environment industry will welcome the PM’s Network North plan, but will echo the sentiments of those who question whether it will become a reality.

As we approach the next General Election, the Tories are playing an interesting game as the whole country seems to be struggling with promise fatigue.

Rishi Sunak may be trying to table himself as the ‘change candidate’, but that’s particularly tricky when his party has been in power for thirteen years.

Even more so, considering he was holding the purse strings as Chancellor before his election as Leader.

The PM’s speech on Wednesday was peppered with references to the future. Future policies, future initiatives and the country’s future – with himself at the helm.

Whether his decision on HS2 proves to be fundamental when it’s time to hit the polling stations, time will tell. But what we do know, is that this conference season is one of the most important we’ve seen for years – and it’s not over yet.

Over to you, Labour…

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