HS2 Manchester leg could be scrapped

Documents seen by The Independent suggest that £34 billion could be saved by cutting the Birmingham to Manchester and East Midland legs of the railway.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and prime minister Rishi Sunak are believed to have discussed cost-saving measures on Tuesday (12 September) for HS2, which has already been scaled back (from a planned Leeds terminus) and is under further review with a pause on design work at Grimshaw’s Euston station.

The report said that, while discussions are thought to be ongoing as part of the review, the government has already spent £2.3 billion on phase 2a from Birmingham to Crewe and phase 2b from Crewe to Manchester and the East Midlands Parkway, which it is unlikely to recover.

The bill for 2a has already been given royal assent but 2b is still at the report stage in parliament.

Press photographers stationed outside the Treasury also caught a glimpse of papers referring to a meeting between the chancellor with a ‘savings table’ for each stage of the project, including spending so far and estimated future costs.

If the Manchester leg is axed, it could mean an end to Bennetts Associates’ proposed upgrade of Manchester Piccadilly station.

Manchester City Council and Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham have both called for the underground station for the city – as opposed to a cheaper above-ground option.

HS2 bosses said in May 2022 that an underground station at Manchester designed by Weston Williamson + Partners would cost too much – potentially up to £5 billion – and cause too much disruption.

The latest revelations come after an internal HS2 document seen by the Sunday Telegraph last month suggested cutting three platforms from the Grimshaw-designed Euston station, leaving it with seven.

The proposal was one of five options for the future high-speed railway that were seen by the newspaper and which HS2 and the government are considering. Another option was to cut back on the above-station development element.

In July, the government’s own infrastructure watchdog, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, said delivery of the first two phases of the mega project was ‘unachievable’ in its present set-up.

In March, Grimshaw stood down its 90-person design team on the Euston terminus after transport secretary Mark Harper announced a pause on sections of HS2 over spiralling costs.

Its involvement included design work on the HS2 terminus makeover at Euston, which has already had the number of its platforms cut down from 11 to 10 under a 2020 review.

Arup, which is also working on HS2 at Euston and in Manchester, meanwhile made 200 redundancies last month.

View of proposed HS2 Euston station entrance from the south

Before suspending work on Euston earlier this year, costs for the slightly slimmer 10-platform station had rocketed to £4.8 billion. That was almost double a 2020 estimate and £400 million more than a larger scheme it was replacing.

A freedom of information (FOI) request made by the AJ revealed that HS2 had already shelled out £289 million on design fees for a series of concepts over eight years.

As the AJ reported in March, Grimshaw is now expected to unveil a third design when a decision on the project is made. There is no date set for that call.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said in January – amid reports that Euston’s HS2 station could be scrapped altogether – that the government was committed to going ‘all the way’ with the Euston project, despite suggestions HS2 might terminate further west at Old Oak Common.

Delivery of the central London terminus is necessary for ensuring capacity on the railway, which will run to Crewe, Birmingham and eventually Manchester under current plans.

HS2 declined to comment. The Treasury and Bennetts Associates was approached for comment.