Navigating the Fallout: Unpacking the Industry’s Response to the HS2 Cancellation

Navigating the Fallout: Unpacking the Industry’s Response to the HS2 Cancellation

The abrupt cancellation of the HS2’s northern leg has sent shockwaves through the engineering and construction sectors, eliciting a chorus of disappointment and concern from industry leaders.

The decision, announced by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, has been met with widespread criticism, highlighting the potential long-term impacts on the UK’s infrastructure development, economic growth, and efforts to bridge the north-south divide.

What was HS2 Phase 2?

High Speed 2 Phase Two was a planned extension of the HS2 railway line, aiming to connect Birmingham with Manchester and Leeds, enhancing the UK’s rail network and reducing travel times significantly. The project was divided into two sub-phases: Phase 2a, connecting Birmingham to Crewe, and Phase 2b, extending from Crewe to Manchester and Leeds.

HS2 VL 20603 HS2 Phase 2 map v5A map showing the route of Phase 2a from Birmingham to Crewe

Phase 2a: Birmingham to Crewe

This phase was intended to be built simultaneously with Phase 1, merging the two phases effectively. It included a proposal for a high-speed hub at Crewe, designed to optimise the connection with six classic lines radiating from the existing Crewe junction. This hub would facilitate faster and more efficient travel times for various regions and cities, combining the benefits of HS2 and classic lines.

Phase 2b: Crewe to Manchester and Leeds

The extension to Manchester included a planned station to serve Manchester Airport, located next to Junction 5 of the M56 motorway. The route would then continue into Manchester city centre via a 7.5-mile bored tunnel, surfacing at Ardwick. HS2 trains were planned to terminate at an upgraded Manchester Piccadilly station, reducing the average journey time from central Manchester to London to 1 hour 8 minutes.

The Leeds extension involved a new station in the East Midlands, potentially a parkway station, to serve Nottingham, Derby, and Leicester. The line would then continue north to Sheffield and terminate at Leeds, reducing the average journey time from central Leeds to London to 1 hour 28 minutes.

Key Features

  • A high-speed hub at Crewe to optimise connections with existing classic lines.
  • A station at Manchester Airport, enhancing accessibility for air travellers.
  • Upgraded terminus stations at Manchester Piccadilly and Leeds, facilitating faster travel to London.

The cancellation of this phase has stirred reactions from various sectors, emphasising the lost opportunities for enhanced connectivity, economic growth, and infrastructure development.

A Blow to Connectivity and Capacity

Darren Caplan, Chief Executive of the Railway Industry Association (RIA), expressed profound disappointment, emphasising the government’s role in the escalating costs and delays associated with the project. “Scrapping HS2 Phase 2 is simply unnecessary and squanders the full benefits of Phase 1,” Caplan noted. He further added, “Today’s nuclear option is defeatist and sends a terrible signal to potential overseas investors that the UK simply cannot deliver large national transport infrastructure schemes” (source).

Sir John Armitt, Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, echoed these sentiments, underscoring the significant gap left in the UK’s rail strategy. “It will be for government to show it can turn the schemes into a coherent, long-term rail strategy and deliver it in a cost-effective manner, in partnership with local leaders,” Armitt stated (source).

Economic and Environmental Concerns

Andy Bagnall, Chief Executive of Rail Partners, highlighted the decision’s counterintuitive nature, especially at a time when the shift towards less carbon-intensive transport modes is paramount. “The cancellation of the northern section means less capacity for rail freight and ultimately more lorries on our roads,” Bagnall lamented (source).

Marie-Claude Hemming, Director of Operations for the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA), called the decision a dark day for the UK economy. “This is a dark day for the UK economy,” Hemming observed (source).

The Future of UK Rail Industry

Michelle Craven-Faulkner, Partner and Rail Lead at Shoosmiths, highlighted the broader implications for the rail industry, which has been navigating policy changes and uncertainties. “The decision to scrap the Birmingham to Manchester leg of HS2 will have consequences,” Craven-Faulkner emphasised (source).

Rain Newton-Smith, CBI Chief Executive, expressed concerns about the damaging signal the HS2 cancellation sends regarding the UK as a global destination for investment. “The decision to cancel the rest of the HS2 project sends a damaging signal about the UK’s status as a global destination for investment,” Newton-Smith pointed out (source).

A Missed Opportunity

Lord McLoughlin, Chair of Transport for the North (TfN), labelled the cancellation a betrayal of the North. “It’s undeniable that this will be seen by many as a missed opportunity for the region, and the country as a whole,” McLoughlin argued (source).

The HS2 cancellation has unveiled a complex web of economic, environmental, and strategic challenges. The industry’s reaction is a mix of disappointment and concern, with calls for transparency, strategic alignment, and reassurance to restore confidence in the UK’s commitment to national infrastructure development and economic growth.

The unfolding scenario underscores the difficulties balancing policy, investment, and long-term national objectives, highlighting the need for cohesive, forward-looking strategies aligning with the nation’s broader economic and environmental goals.


  • The HS2 northern leg cancellation has elicited disappointment and concern from the engineering and construction sectors.
  • Industry leaders criticise the decision for its potential negative impacts on infrastructure development, economic growth, and the north-south divide.
  • Concerns are raised about reduced rail capacity, increased road transport reliance, and contradictions to the UK’s decarbonisation goals.
  • The cancellation sends a damaging signal to international investors and undermines the UK’s global investment appeal.
  • Calls for transparency, strategic alignment, and reassurance are emphasised to restore confidence in national infrastructure development.
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