Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, has expressed his willingness to discuss delaying the construction of the northern leg of the High-Speed 2 (HS2) rail line in exchange for the government’s commitment to building an east-west route called Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR). This follows Rishi Sunak’s review of HS2, which includes considering scrapping the section from Birmingham to Manchester. Burnham argues that northern England should not have to choose between HS2 and NPR and suggests prioritising the Manchester airport to Manchester Piccadilly section of HS2 to enable the construction of NPR. The cost of HS2 is expected to rise from £70bn to £91bn, and Sunak aims to save money by dropping the northern section and redirecting funding to alternative transport projects in the north of England.
NPR is more popular in northern England as it aims to improve the region’s notoriously poor transport links. However, cancelling the northern leg of HS2 would increase the cost of carrying out NPR as a standalone project. Burnham’s support for Sunak’s plans is conditional on full construction of NPR with an underground station at Manchester Piccadilly and a new line via Bradford, as well as a clear commitment to not scrapping HS2 to Manchester but rephasing it. The government is considering the construction of an underground station at Manchester Piccadilly, but the estimated additional cost of £5bn is disputed.
The original plans for NPR involved a line from Leeds to Manchester via Bradford for £39bn, which was later replaced by a £17bn hybrid model that included a new line from Manchester to Marsden near Huddersfield. Reverting to the original plan may be a point of contention for Burnham. Supporters of HS2 argue that switching funding to NPR would be problematic, as it would involve building the most costly part of the HS2 scheme without linking it up with Birmingham. The decision to end HS2 in southern England at Old Oak Common, rather than Euston, could further undermine the construction of the northern leg, as Old Oak Common can only accommodate six platforms compared to Euston’s 10 platforms.