Transport secretary Chris Grayling has kickstarted a review into how the second phase of HS2 could be more efficient and cost effective as the project’s fate hangs in the balance with the ongoing Tory leadership election.
The government is seeking views on proposed changes to the route north of Birmingham, including two new junctions to connect the railway to Northern Powerhouse rail – also known as HS3 or Crossrail for the north – near Manchester.
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HS2 is a £56bn rail link that will connect London to Birmingham in the first phase, and in the second link the West Midlands to Manchester and Leeds.
In recent weeks it has become a battleground for those jostling to replace Theresa May, with a handful of candidates suggesting they could scrap the scheme and invest in local transport links instead.
Grayling has put out for consultation proposals to allow for two future junctions that could see the HS2 line into Manchester used as part of Northern Powerhouse rail.
There is also the possibility of opening up a new route between Manchester and Liverpool that could be used for services between London and Liverpool.
Damian Waters, North West regional director at the Confederation of British Industry, said the consultation was a “massive opportunity for the North and one we must grasp with both hands”.
“Linking up HS2 and the Northern Powerhouse will unlock a series of connections knitting together Manchester, Liverpool and London to a high quality transport network fit for the 21st century,” he said.
“Behind these maps and documents is the chance to create hundreds of thousands of jobs and bring new opportunities to our communities.
“The stark reality is that no other scheme or investment can deliver the jobs, growth or regeneration benefits of HS2.
“If we are to regenerate our local economies, we must move forward with both HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail.”
Last month the House of Lords tore into the project and warned that London risks reaping all the rewards in a way that would leave the north “short-changed”.
The Lords’ Economic Affairs Committee said the costs of the project “do not appear to be under control” and the government must find ways to reduce them so that the second phase of the railway, based in the north, definitely gets built.
A number of Tory leadership candidates have also expressed scepticism in the project.
Earlier this week chief secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss said the Treasury was looking at whether the project could be delivered on time and on budget. The scheme will form part of the government’s spending review later this year.
“Clearly the decisions to be made on these projects will be for the next Prime Minister, and I see my role as Chief Secretary for the Treasury as making sure we have the maximum amount of information prior to these decisions being made later this year,” she told peers in the House of Lords.
“One of the things we will be looking at for the first time in this zero-based capital review is the deliverability of projects … is it really the case that this project can be delivered for the budget envelope that the Treasury has set out, in this case £56bn for HS2, and can it be delivered in the timescale?” she added.