West Midlands & Manchester Mayors unveil their HS2 alternative for a rail line linking two regions

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Andy Street and Andy Burnham reach ‘provisional conclusion’ for building a new rail line linking the Midlands and Manchester

Two mayors have joined forces to propose a new rail line between the Midlands and Manchester.

West Midlands mayor Andy Street (Conservative) and Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham (Labour) confirmed last month that they were discussing alternatives to the northern leg of HS2, controversially axed by the government in October last year.

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During a media conference in Birmingham, the pair of mayors warned ‘doing nothing was not an option’ as they outlined three potential plans – one of which involved building a new rail line.

Multiple private companies had given their services to help come up with a ‘credible and financially viable’ scheme after HS2 was scaled back in 2023, Street said at the time.

Now Street has confirmed via X, formerly Twitter, that they have reached a “provisional conclusion” of building a new rail line between a village in Staffordshire and Manchester Airport.

“Three months ago Andy Burnham and I commissioned work to look at improving connectivity between the West Midlands and Greater Manchester,” he wrote. Now we’ve reached a provisional conclusion – build a new rail line.”

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“This is more than just a route between Handsacre and Manchester Airport,” he continued. We believe we could change the UK’s approach to infrastructure – utilising private finance to protect the state’s pocket. Look forward to continuing the work ahead of final conclusions this summer.”

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street with Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham discussing alternative HS2 rail line in BirminghamWest Midlands Mayor Andy Street with Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham discussing alternative HS2 rail line in Birmingham
West Midlands Mayor Andy Street with Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham discussing alternative HS2 rail line in Birmingham

A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said: “We will carefully consider the initial proposals from the Mayors’ study and await the group’s full findings this summer, as well as its proposals for securing funding from the private sector that will be required to progress this.

“The Government remains committed to our plan to reallocate the £36bn of savings from the cancellation of HS2 Phase 2 into improving local transport to benefit more people in more places, more quickly. These plans are progressing well and reallocation of those savings is already underway.”

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The HS2 project faced criticism in the past due to delays and cost increases over the years. Speaking at the media conference in Birmingham last month, Andy Burnham said “lessons have got to be learnt from HS2” to ensure the costs associated with any new project don’t spiral in a similar way.

“What is one of the big lessons?” he said. “I’ll tell you what I think it is – it’s the culture in Whitehall of the ministerial merry-go-round, where there’s a reshuffle and a new HS2 minister or a change in government, a new Prime Minister.

“That’s what builds in the complexity and the cost. What’s happening here is that we’re doing it from a bottom up perspective – we know what we need, we know what our places need and we’re not going to chop and change it. That’s the reassurance I would give,” he added. “We would learn the lessons from HS2.”

He continued that for him, the option of doing nothing wasn’t an option. “The West Coast Main Line is full, the M6 is full. We cannot, in my view, just stick where we are because the economic prospects of the West Midlands and Greater Manchester will suffer if we do that. Having been very dejected in October last year, we are much more upbeat now about the prospects for Manchester-Birmingham connectivity.”

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Scrapping phase two of the HS2 to Manchester in October, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said money would be spent on alternative rail, road and bus schemes instead. Speaking at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester at the time, he said the costs of the project had soared and added it had been repeatedly delayed

Mark Thurston, former chief executive of HS2 Ltd, said last year the impact of inflation on the HS2 project had been significant while transport secretary Mark Harper added soaring prices were a factor.

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