Bosses reportedly shrink passenger forecasts from 60 million to 50 million by 2040

Prime minister Rishi Sunak’s decision to cancel the Manchester leg of HS2 has prompted Manchester Airport to downsize its projected growth from 60 million passengers a year by 2040 to 50 million.

Airport bosses had hoped connections with HS2 and a new fast line to Liverpool as part of the Northern Powerhouse Rail project would allow the travel gateway to more than double in size and make it the North’s answer to Heathrow. According to its most recent update, Manchester Airport had passenger numbers of just over 28 million in the 12 months to December.

But October’s decision to cancel plans for dedicated new lines that would have extended HS2 services north from the West Midlands directly into Manchester’s Piccadilly Station and connected with the West Coast Main Line at Crewe has forced a rethink at operator Manchester Airports Group.

Manchetser airport shutterstock

Chief executive officer Ken O’Toole said MAG is now taking a more conservative view on passenger growth and targeting 50 million by 2040 – with the HS2 decision to blame.

>> Also read: MPs say HS2 now a ‘poor value, rump of a project’ and question whether Euston will ever get built

“The connection of Manchester Airport to HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail is consistent with what the UK needs, an integrated transport network of roads, rail and airports. HS2 would have been a key enabler of economic growth in the north,” he told The Times.

“HS2 would have broadened our catchment area but the bigger issue is the value lost of what Manchester could have brought as a complementary major airport to Heathrow and what it operates in the south. There remains a strong economic case for the extension of HS2 from Birmingham to Manchester and we are encouraged at and support the mayors’ engagement.”

Earlier this month Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and West Midlands mayor Andy Street met with transport secretary Mark Harper and junior minister Huw Merriman to discuss their plans for improving train connections between Manchester and the West Midlands in the wake of the cancellation of the second phase of HS2.

Last week, members of parliament’s Public Accounts Committee published a damning report on the government’s handling of HS2. They said the Department for Transport and delivery company HS2 Ltd did not appear to understand how the scaled-back version of HS2 would work.

MPs said they were also “highly sceptical” about proposals to deliver a new terminus at Euston using private-sector funding with any kind of pace.