CHAMBER NETWORK RESPONDS TO HS2 ANNOUNCEMENT 

Oct 5, 2023

Shevaun Haviland, Director General of the BCC, said: 

“Following recent speculation, businesses remained hopeful that the Prime Minister would listen to their calls to push on and deliver the long-term infrastructure this country needs.  

“This is disappointing news for them and our economy as cancelling the second phase of HS2 will massively impact the country’s rail network. 

“Without this vital additional capacity, any plans to improve the UK’s freight and passenger services will be restricted. 

“We will be left with a rail system unable to effectively connect all our regional economies. 

“Each HS2 train would have removed up to 129 lorries from the road, this will also be a lost opportunity to build a low-carbon freight transport system.  

“And it will affect our global trade: one in four sea containers arriving or departing from a port is carried by rail, and additional capacity is urgently needed. When we talk about growth, we mean trade. Our global partners must trust that we can move not only at speed but with capacity.  

“Businesses and regional governments will now be scratching their heads as they work out how to fill the hole left in their strategic plans by the loss of HS2’s further phases.  

“Government must quickly set out the detail of its new plans, especially around timescales and the release of funds for the new projects it has put forward today. 

“It must also urgently revisit the functioning of our planning system, as so much of the delay and cost around HS2 has come from its inability to cope with a large-scale infrastructure project. Let’s learn the lessons from HS2; let’s make sure these new promises are deliverable before we spend another penny of taxpayers’ money.” 

Chris Fletcher, Greater Manchester Chamber Director of Policy, said:

“After much speculation Government has at last shown its hand by announcing the cancellation of the northern leg of HS2 and the money to be re-invested into yet another new scheme, ‘Network North’. 

“Whilst this may sound like a better use of the money with new lines promised, and road schemes included too, the simple fact is that irrespective of what it is called we are still no nearer getting the transport network that we actually needed years ago to unlock the north’s potential.  

“We have been promised a lot before and nothing has been done and this latest attempt from government will be treated with cynicism and scepticism by a lot of people. 

“HS2 was a major investment opportunity for the UK that would unburden a worn-out network already at over capacity; boost the country’s net zero ambitions and open up labour markets and job opportunities on a scale like never before. Plus, it was also a cornerstone of Northern Powerhouse Rail. Network North has to deliver all this, and more and in a shorter timescale, if this government is to have any credibility. Successive governments’ performance on this over the last decade has not been great. 

“If the scale of what the PM announced is to be realised then there will have to be a huge investment in upskilling and training an army of workers for the challenge ahead. At present there are gaps and shortages in critical construction and engineering jobs, something HS2 has been good at resolving through apprenticeships and that will have to be stepped up unless we are to face yet more hold ups and delays in construction. 

“This still has the feeling of a political concept rather than a practical solution. I would like to see the technical and engineering data and reports that this decision for HS2 was based on and, how they have identified what the new programme of infrastructure will deliver. My guess is that this is still a back of a beer mat plan and reality will be very different. 

“Put bluntly we are fed up of broken promises, delays, cuts and hopes about finally getting what we need being dashed for political expediency. We will be watching closely and waiting on further details of what will be delivered and, more importantly, when.” 

Paul Cherpeau, Chief Executive of Liverpool Chamber, said: 

“Businesses in the Liverpool City Region need certainty and connectivity to make investment decisions; the stop-start nature of the HS2 process and the shambolic approach to levelling-up has provided neither. A high-speed link between Birmingham and London certainly offers zero impetus to their ambitions. 

“We are keen to hear more details of the newly-announced investment in the so-called Network North scheme and we welcome the news that the existing investment between Liverpool and Manchester is to be protected. 

“While no infrastructure plan should be given a blank cheque, a city region the size of Liverpool requires a world-class transport network to improve connectivity with all corners of the UK and beyond. 

“Business owners want to know that the government has a coherent plan to improve vital infrastructure that will directly support their businesses through the smoother movement of freight and people. Moreover, they will want to hear a solid commitment from the government that it will actually deliver on these latest investment promises after so many false dawns.” 

Henrietta Brealey, CEO of Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, said:

“While the Prime Minister’s speech was full of big promises, it was short on the practical reality of what cancelling Phase 2 of HS2 at this late stage actually means.  

“No Phase 2 means no enhanced capacity for passengers or freight between Birmingham and Manchester. A huge amount of cost and disruption has already been incurred to prepare for Phase 2. Many projects, including some of those he highlighted, are predicated on the arrival of HS2. 

“Faith in the government to deliver on the long-term investments that this country needs to grow has been hugely damaged.  

“It is time for the Prime Minister to be transparent on the costs of scrapping HS2 Phase 2 and how long it’ll be before any of the projects he listed come to fruition, given that these savings won’t become a reality until the 2030s. 

“All we really have right now are short-term cuts and long-term questions.” 

Babs Murphy, CEO of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, said:  

“Today’s news is clearly disappointing for the infrastructure of the existing rail network in the northwest, though it is not surprising given weeks of speculation.  

  

“HS2 would not only have brought more potential contracts to the Lancashire supply chain but also have re-invigorated an economy which has suffered in a post-pandemic world. Our hope now is the government comes up with a clear and concise framework for future investment in a railway which has remained largely unchanged since Victorian times, to provide cost management and support a transport system for the north which can be delivered.” 

Sarah Moorhouse, CEO of the Black Country Chamber of Commerce said: 

“We are hugely disappointed in this decision from the Prime Minister to scrap HS2 from Birmingham to Manchester. This is a waste of a huge opportunity to not only level up the north, but also bring British rail infrastructure into the twenty-first century. 

“Nevertheless, the decision is made. We look forward now to funding of the Midlands Rail Hub beginning without further delay and getting spades in the ground, as well as the extension of the West Midlands Metro.” 

East Midlands Chamber chief executive Scott Knowles said:  

“Businesses in the East Midlands are exasperated at the HS2 saga that has been playing out for over a decade now and this latest embarrassing U-turn is another nail in the coffin for the Government’s levelling up mantra, which shows little sign of arriving in our region.

“While lots of the discussion today will be about the impact on Manchester and other parts of the North, the East Midlands continues to be bottom of the pile when it comes to public transport investment.  

“Much like the trains travelling on our Victorian rail infrastructure, we find ourselves once again at a standstill, far away from the destination we want to reach and with next to no idea how we’re supposed to get there.

“Rail in our region has been a political hot potato for decades – we are still waiting for Midland Main Line electrification to be delivered and plans for the HS2 Eastern Leg were scaled back in the Integrated Rail Plan, resulting in areas like Chesterfield, Staveley and Toton losing out on significant economic regeneration benefits.

“At a time when we need to demonstrate to the rest of the world that we’re a country with big ambition, there is instead a complete inability to deliver major infrastructure projects, as the chopping and changing of Government administrations is reflected in policy indecision.

“The East Midlands is a world-class producer of products. This demands a world-class transport infrastructure to get these goods and services across the country, and around the globe. 

“This announcement damages confidence and has real-world impacts in terms of job creation and business investment, not to mention job retention among the numerous East Midlands businesses that play a key role in the HS2 supply chain.  

“Government is failing one of its basic principles – to use economic policy that creates an environment in which business can thrive, invest and create jobs. Forget levelling up – it feels like we are being levelled down in the East Midlands. Again.” 

Paul Colman, CEO of South Cheshire of Commerce, said:  

“This is a ‘devastating blow’ in particular for Crewe and Nantwich where so much was hinging on the economic boost for high-speed rail would deliver during the project construction and in future years when up and running. 

“Businesses have been keen to relocate to South Cheshire on the back of HS2. Despite the project delays, business confidence was at an all-time high. Now that is shattered. 

“We know our business community will dig deep and show its resilience as it did in the pandemic years but today it’s reeling from being let down once again.” 

James Mason, chief executive of West & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, said:  

“The scrapping of the HS2 link to Manchester is the final nail in the coffin for high-speed rail in the North of England.

“After more than a decade of promises, life-changing infrastructure upgrades which would have done so much to boost productivity and investment into the North have now been done away with at the stroke of a pen. We are now left with the same Victorian rail network that will simply not have the capacity to deal with demand over the coming decades. 

“While a commitment to local connectivity is welcome, they follow very similar pledges made over the last decade. Scrapping HS2 from Birmingham to Manchester also removes the crucial piece of infrastructure to making Northern Powerhouse Rail viable – leaving us with the worst of all worlds.  

“Business investment decisions in the North for more than 10 years have been made with HS2 in mind and vast swathes of employment land left undeveloped owing to their being earmarked for development for the line. 

“All in all, this is a dark day for the North’s economy.” 

Corin Crane, CEO of Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber, said: 

“This is an incredibly frustrating decision for businesses across the Midlands and the North of England and the fact that this two-week debate about whether it was speculation or not has been played out in public, is frankly insulting. 

“Hundreds of thousands of hours have been wasted planning this project, community-changing regeneration plans are now not feasible along the route, businesses and residents have already been moved to clear the way for a line that will never appear and overseas investors will be looking at the UK in bewilderment. 

“Now, we must start another decades-long planning process to get our infrastructure reform started and businesses across our region will continue to see their trucks stuck on motorways with no capacity for freight and their staff stuck on trains with no more capacity for passengers. This is the opposite of levelling up.” 

Miranda Barker, CEO of East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, said:

“The risk we run with dialling back on strategy infrastructure spend, for which the case was made decades ago, is that we are actually dialling back on our UK competitiveness in multiple global markets. 

“The north of England are global players in so many advanced manufacturing sectors, leading in auto, aero, battery technology, and low carbon innovations across the board, we cannot compete on a world stage with antiquated transport systems and without true new capacity. 

“We cannot transport our goods or transfer more freight from road to rail with the associated 76 percent reduction in CO2 emissions without the new rail capacity real strategic infrastructure would bring.

“Long term decisions for a brighter future? These are all short-term, short-sighted policy decisions for a stunted future.” 

John McCabe, chief executive, North East England Chamber of Commerce, said:

“We will be looking closely at the details of the new Network North propositions as they emerge. The pivot from high speed rail to a broader package of transport investments has been framed as decisions for long-term growth and stability. However, it is unclear yet whether the funding shifts and reprioritisation of transport schemes across the country will deliver for our members here in the North East.

“We need more information on the details of Network North. We know from our members that improved connectivity helps to attract people to live and work in the North East, supports trade and secures vital investment. Public transport is also key to hitting our net zero targets. We need reliable connections from east-west to other northern cities, as well as strong intercity connectivity.

“High speed rail should have been part of that strategy but commitments on long-term investments have to be backed up by fast-paced, efficient delivery. The UK lags behind our global economic competitors in taking decisions and getting on with them. HS2 has been a casualty of this failure.

“We need to see a firm commitment to Northern Powerhouse Rail as well as local bus services. The government also needs to ensure schemes across the country are not set up to fail by competing for the same pots of funds. Without that, government will not deliver levelling up meaningfully.

“It’s positive to see some announcements around road infrastructure in the region, including the A1 and Blyth Relief Road, as well as the reopening of the Ferryhill Station. These will have to be backed up by funding and a sensible, clear timetable for delivery if they are to be made real and meaningful.

“We will continue to advocate for investment in critical transport projects for the North East, including Northern Powerhouse Rail and the Leamside Line upgrade creating increased capacity on the East Coast Main Line and the Washington metro link.”

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