The UK government announced today that it will be conducting an independent review of HS2, raising fears that the high-speed rail project could be scrapped


HS2 phase one was due to be completed by 2026, with the second phase built by 2033

As the UK government launches a review of the HS2 high-speed rail link that could eventually lead to it being scrapped, business leaders have made the case for going full-steam ahead with what many see as a ‘vital’ infrastructure project.

Business leaders and CEOs from across the UK have been united in their commitment to the “vital” HS2 rail improvements, reminding government of the “undoubted opportunities” the infrastructure project represents.

Their comments follow the announcement of a government review into the benefits and costs of HS2, which will ultimately come to the conclusion of whether it should be scrapped by this autumn.

During an interview with Sky News, transport secretary Grant Shapps said he’d told the review to “find out all the information that’s out there, find out exactly where we’re up to and genuinely what it would cost to complete this project, and then we’ll be in a much better position to make that decision — go or no-go by the end of the year”.


The business case for keeping HS2

Despite the rising cost of the project — which could potentially go £30bn over budget — many believe there remains a strong business case for the construction of HS2.

A group of CEOs from across the UK came together to sign a letter backing investment in HS2 in May, with the message that it is expected to bring £92bn in benefits and create 500,000 new jobs.

Among the signatories were Ian Stuart, CEO of HSBC UK — which recently opened a new headquarters in Birmingham — CEO of Leeds-based Sky Betting and Gaming Ian Proctor and Professor Juergen Maier, CEO of Siemens UK.

HS2 Birmingham Curzon Street station
Artist’s impression of the HS2 Birmingham Curzon Street station (Twitter/Planning Insight)

The Federation of Small Businesses chairman Mike Cherry claims that it is “vital that the HS2 project stays on track”.

He adds: “HS2 should be seized by this government as an opportunity to back the small businesses that it so often claims to support, opening doors for them and setting the tone for future infrastructure projects.

“It would do well to remember that small firms bring a dynamism to supply chains that big corporates struggle to match.

“Wider job creation, inward investment and transport projects across the north of England and Midlands hinge on HS2’s completion.

“This project is not simply a nice to have. Done right, it will lay the foundations for a truly balanced UK economy.”

Chris Hobson, director of policy at East Midlands Chamber of Commerce, believes that high-speed rail remains “hugely significant” for the East Midlands and could have a “positive transformational effect” for the rest of the UK.

He says: “Since the Victorian age we have merely tinkered around the edges of a rail network that is no longer fit for purpose to the businesses which rely on it to grow, create wealth and enhance our communities.

“A step change is needed and we firmly believe HS2 is that step change.

“This isn’t just about speed and getting people from A to B — it’s about greater connectivity, improved capacity, an enhanced ability to transfer the goods we make and an aspirational, ambitious and forward-thinking Britain.”

Sajeeda Rose, CEO of Derbyshire and Nottingham local enterprise partnership D2N2, pointed to the benefits HS2 has already brought to the region.

business case hs2
Sajeeda Rose believes HS2 could add £4bn to the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire economy (Credit: D2N2)

She says: “HS2 is already having a large and positive impact on our economy supporting over 7,000 jobs and 2,000 businesses nationally, 300 of those from across the Midlands.

“In a national environment of greater and greater traffic demands on ageing infrastructure, HS2 is the most efficient and fastest method of public transportation across the country.

“D2N2 remains confident that HS2 will stimulate significant growth within Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire in the form of around 74,000 new jobs, £4bn added to the economy, and increased prosperity for our communities. I trust that the review will come to the same conclusion.”


How HS2 can help address the North-South divide

The proposed route for HS2 would connect London Euston to Birmingham, before branching off to Manchester and Leeds — with these scheduled to come under the second phase of construction.

The high-speed rail line could halve journey times between Manchester and London and shave half an hour from the capital to Birmingham.

Stations further north of the HS2 line, such as Newcastle and Edinburgh, would connect with the faster services from York and Wigan.

The proposed HS2 route would connect London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds

Dave Allen, associate director for rail at Newcastle-based rail and energy recruitment specialists Samuel Knight International, claims that the development has the potential to “balance out the ‘North-South’ divide” by improving connectivity for businesses based in the northern part of the UK.

“It will also increase the scope for employers to access more potential recruits as commuting further becomes easier,” he adds.

“This is of particular benefit for the numerous skills-short industries we work with such as energy and rail.

“There’s also the fact that this is a great project for rail itself that, if it unfortunately does get scrapped, could weaken the UK’s position as a destination that’s powering ahead with innovation in rail and infrastructure.”

Bill Addy, who represents 1,500 businesses in Liverpool as CEO of the Business Improvement District and chair of the Liverpool Visitor Economy Network, also raises concerns about the impact a negative decision would have for businesses in the north.

He says: “This latest announcement once again spreads doubt, uncertainty and frustration among business leaders in the north, particularly across Liverpool City Region who have had to shout louder than anyone to get the Government to listen to the strong and convincing case that HS2 without Liverpool is nothing short of lunacy.

“As I have said several times, for the north to become the economic powerhouse that it can, there has to be a continued investment into a solid connectivity plan for our city region – home to one of Europe’s most advanced container ports.

“Following the Transport Secretary’s disappointing announcement today, my real fear now is that, come the end of the year, Liverpool City Region will be left behind.”