Plans to run line to Manchester were already delayed earlier this year

HS2 is once again under threat of cuts, with the prime minister and chancellor reportedly meeting to discuss savings with the potential axing of the northern stretch of the scheme on the table. 

The high-speed rail project has already seen a major phasing delay this year, with the Euston station site mothballed and the timetable for the second phase set back. 


Chancellor Jeremy Hunt reportedly discussed cuts to the scheme with the prime minister earlier this week

But fresh doubts were cast over the delivery of the full project earlier this week when press photographers outside the Treasury caught a glimpse of documents referring to a bilateral meeting between Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt. 

The document included costings for the later phase of HS2 – which would take the high-speed rail scheme from Birmingham through to Manchester – and outlined the potential savings that could be gained from cuts. 

The government has already spent £2.3bn on the second phase of HS2, which could not be recovered even if the job was shelved. But ministers believe cancellation could save the Treasury £34bn in planned expenditure. 

HS2 has been blighted by rocketing inflation in recent years, with the UK’s infrastructure advisor labelling the scheme “unachievable” in its latest assessment of major projects. 

The prime minister avoided a direct answer to whether he would scrap phase 2, after a question in parliament on Wednesday from Tory MP Michael Fabricant.  

A government spokesperson subsequently gave a vague commitment to delivering “the project”, without explicit reference to the later phase. 

“You would expect Number 10 and the Treasury to regularly discuss large infrastructure projects,” they said. 

“Spades are already in the ground on the HS2 programme, and we remain focused on delivering that. We are committed to HS2, to the project.” 

>> ‘The design team has gone from 500 to six.’ What HS2 Euston is doing now

>> MPs say mothballing HS2 Euston won’t save money and accuse government of ‘not knowing what it wants’ for station

Henri Murison, chief executive from the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said scrapping the Manchester leg would be “economically illiterate”.  

“This isn’t just about changing the way that people might be able to get to London or to Birmingham, this fundamentally rips up the entire basis of the commitments that Rishi Sunak as chancellor made to the north of England,” he said.  

“What do we say to all those inward investors who have come to Manchester… that the government would promised them that they would build HS2?,” he added.  

“They came and invested money, we then promised that we would build Northern Powerhouse Rail, they invest more money, and now their private sector investment has been significantly undermined and its long-term benefit because of something the government is doing.”