What is Network North, England's replacement for the HS2 northern leg?

Together 'hundreds of new transport projects' will drive better connectivity across the north and Midlands with faster journey times

A Keep Out sign at the construction site for the HS2 project at Euston in London. PA
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The northern leg of Britain's HS2 rail network was officially scrapped on Wednesday, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak promising to invest “every penny” of the £36 billion saved on transport projects across the country.

Plans included a new “Network North”, which Mr Sunak claimed would improve connectivity in the region.

But what exactly is it?

What will the money be spent on?

Mr Sunak said the £36 billion will be ploughed into hundreds of new transport projects to drive better connectivity across the north and Midlands with faster journey times.

The government said every region is set to “receive the same or more transport investment on an unprecedented scale”.

The money will be used to increase the capacity and provide more frequent and reliable services on the railways, buses and roads.

In the north, the projects set to benefit include:

  • £2 billion for a new station at Bradford and a new connection to Manchester
  • £2.5 billion to deliver a new mass transit system in West Yorkshire
  • £3 billion for upgraded and electrified lines between Manchester and Sheffield, Sheffield and Leeds, Sheffield and Hull, and Hull-Leeds
  • Nearly £4 billion more in funding for local transport in the north’s six city regions
  • A new £2.5 billion fund for local transport across all areas in the north outside the six city regions – smaller cities, counties, towns and countryside
  • A new £3.3 billion fund for road resurfacing
  • Landmark investments in roads, reopened train lines and new stations

Another £12 billion on top of the cost of the scrapped leg will also be set aside for faster connectivity between Liverpool and Manchester, it said.

The money will pay for the Northern Powerhouse Rail as previously planned, including high-speed lines.

In total, £9.6 billion will be reinvested in the Midlands, with new projects including:

  • Funding the Midlands Rail Hub in full with £1.75 billion, connecting 50 stations and more than seven million people – doubling capacity and frequency
  • More than £1.5 billion guaranteed local transport funding for the new East Midlands Mayor
  • More than £1 billion in extra local transport funding for West Midlands City Region
  • A new £2.2 billion fund for local transport across all areas in the west and east Midlands outside the city regions – smaller cities, counties, towns and countryside
  • Reopened train lines and new stations such as the Ivanhoe Line
  • The development of Midlands road projects to benefit businesses and their employees at Rolls-Royce, Toyota and Magna Park, generating more than £12 billion for the local economy

Another £6.5 billion will be spent on projects elsewhere, including:

  • Rail improvements in the south-west
  • Keeping the £2 bus fare until the end of December 2024
  • Ensuring the delivery of road projects
  • Transforming Ely Junction and billions to fix potholes on the country’s roads
  • Greater connectivity for both Scotland and Wales with improvements to the A75 between Gretna and Stranraer, as well as £1 billion to fund the electrification of the North Wales Main Line

Why is this necessary?

The government has said more than four million people living in northern England cannot reach the city centre by using public transport within half an hour.

And rail journeys only account for 8 per cent of distances travelled and 2 per cent of all journeys.

It has pointed out that the HS2 project accounts for more than a third of all its transport investments and the money would be best spent where it would benefit people most.

What was scrapped and what is left of the HS2 project?

Wednesday’s announcement means the HS2 Phase 2 line between Birmingham and Manchester will no longer go ahead.

But HS2 will still run between Euston in central London and the west Midlands as planned, with a station at Old Oak Common and Birmingham Interchange.

Branches will also be built linking it to central Birmingham and Handsacre, near Lichfield – where HS2 trains for Manchester, Liverpool and Scotland will join the West Coast Main Line.

On completion, HS2 trains will run from Euston to central Birmingham in 49 minutes – 30 minutes faster than now – and from Euston to Manchester in 1 hour and 40 minutes, 27 minutes faster than now.

In addition, HS2 trains will run from Euston to Liverpool in 1 hour and 45 minutes, 26 minutes faster than now; and also to Lancashire, Cumbria and Scotland, “saving significantly on current journey times”, according to the government.

How was the PM's decision received?

Andy Burnham, the Labour mayor of Greater Manchester, said there was “frustration and anger” over the government's decision to tear up the northern leg of HS2.

“It always seems that people here where I live and where I kind of represent can be treated as second class citizens when it comes to transport,” he said.

Andy Street, the Tory mayor for the West Midlands, warned that scrapping part of the HS2 would be “an incredible political gaffe” allowing opponents to accuse Mr Sunak of having decided to sideline the North while in Manchester.

Mr Street put off a trip to Munich to drum up investment for his region, instead choosing to stay in Manchester as the U-turn was anticipated.

After the Prime Minister had announced the move Mr Street said he was “incredibly disappointed” by the decision. After considering his position in the Conservative Party he said he had decided not to resign.

Former Conservative prime minister David Cameron branded Mr Sunak's move “the wrong one” and said it would fuel the view that the UK “can no longer think or act for the long-term as a country”.

“I regret this decision and in years to come I suspect many will look back at today’s announcement and wonder how this once-in-a-generation opportunity was lost,” Mr Cameron wrote on X.

Sharon Graham, general secretary of Unite, a general trade union, lambasted the Prime Minister's approach to the high-speed rail. She said cancelling the link to Manchester is an example of the government's “massive under-investment in our industries, critical infrastructure and public services – while profiteering goes unchecked and workers pay the price.”

She said a project that would have brought well-paid jobs to the North of England has been replaced with “a promise of cash for potholes.”

Updated: October 04, 2023, 3:52 PM