Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is planning to scrap the Northern leg of HS2, which would have connected Birmingham with Manchester, reports suggest.
Sky News announced the rumour minutes before Chancellor Jeremy Hunt took to the stage at the Conservative Party Conference.
Speculation about the future of the project has been circulating for weeks, but both Hunt and Sunak have refused to comment on the future of this section of the high-speed rail link a number of times.
HS2 was given the go-ahead in 2020, despite a decade of sharply rising costs and repeated delays to the original project timeframe. The cost of completing the project has ballooned from £33bn a decade ago to an estimated £100bn today.
The Independent recently reported that ministers were considering shelving the northern phase amid concerns about increasing costs and severe delays. It said a cost estimate it had seen revealed that the government has already spent £2.3bn on stage two of the railway from Birmingham to Manchester. Scrapping this phase, though, could save up to £34bn.
There are no reports on whether the line from London to Birmingham will begin at Euston in central London or Old Oak Common, in West London.
Earlier this year, a revamp of Euston station was delayed by two years due to “wildly unrealistic” budgeting. HS2 trains were originally scheduled to run in 2026, but they are now not expected to run into Euston until 2041 at the earliest.
Former prime ministers Boris Johnson and Theresa May have appealed to the prime minister not to scrap the project.
According to Sky News’s understanding, the Department of Transport (DfT) has worked up a package of alternative projects, such as rail, bus, and road – which could be funded from the money saved by not proceeding with the Manchester to Birmingham leg of the project.
A government spokesperson told The Planner magazine: “The HS2 project is already well underway with spades in the ground, and our focus remains on delivering it.”
Last month, HS2 began assembling the project’s longest ‘green tunnel’, which will be covered by earth, trees and shrubs in a bid to help it blend in with the Northamptonshire countryside.
The 2.7km Greatworth Tunnel is being built using a ‘cut and cover’ process, which involves excavating a cutting, building the tunnel and then burying it.
This story was originally published on E+T’s sister title The Planner
Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.