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Manchester business community outraged by HS2 cancellation

The decision to scrap the northern leg of the high-speed railway project HS2 has sparked anger and disappointment among the Manchester business community, who have accused the government of breaking its promises and neglecting the North.

HS2: The ‘old consensus’ that was ditched

HS2 was a planned high-speed rail network that would connect London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, as well as other cities in the North and Midlands. The project was expected to reduce travel times, increase capacity, create jobs and boost the economy.

However, the project faced several challenges, such as rising costs, delays, environmental concerns and opposition from some local communities. The estimated cost of HS2 rose from £56bn in 2015 to £106bn in 2020.

In his speech at the Conservative Party conference on Wednesday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that he was cancelling the rest of the HS2 project, which would have extended the line from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds. He said that “the facts have changed” and that the economic case for the project had “massively weakened with the changes to business travel post-COVID”.

He said that HS2 was “the ultimate example of the old consensus” that favoured cities over other places, and that he would instead spend the £36bn saved by scrapping HS2 on hundreds of other transport projects across the country.

Manchester business community outraged by HS2 cancellation

Network North: The new focus that failed to impress

One of the projects that Sunak promised to focus on was Network North, a scheme to join up the northern cities by rail. He said that Network North would “deliver faster journeys, more services and better connections” for millions of people in the North.

However, Network North is not a new project, but a rebranding of Northern Powerhouse Rail, a proposal that has been in development since 2016. Northern Powerhouse Rail was supposed to be integrated with HS2, and would have benefited from its infrastructure and capacity.

By cancelling HS2’s northern leg, Sunak has effectively reduced the scope and ambition of Northern Powerhouse Rail, and left many questions unanswered about its funding, delivery and timeline.

Manchester: The city that felt betrayed

The reaction from Manchester’s business community to Sunak’s announcement was one of anger and frustration. The Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce said that the decision to scrap HS2’s northern leg was “a betrayal of trust” and “a slap in the face” for the region.

The chamber said that HS2 was “a vital part of our future economic prosperity” and that it would have brought significant benefits to Manchester, such as creating 40,000 jobs, attracting £1.3bn of investment and generating £600m of annual revenue.

The chamber also said that Sunak’s alternative plans were “vague and unconvincing” and that they did not address the chronic underinvestment and poor connectivity that have plagued the North for decades.

Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, also expressed his dismay at Sunak’s decision. He said that scrapping HS2’s northern leg was “ripping the heart out of plans to improve rail services across northern England” and that it would create a “north-south chasm” in transport infrastructure.

He said that Sunak had broken his promise to “level up” the country and that he had shown “contempt” for the people of the North. He called on Sunak to reverse his decision and honour his commitment to deliver HS2 in full.

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