Labour may consider reviving the northern sections of HS2 after the government’s unsuccessful attempt to sell the associated land.

Sources indicate that the land purchased for the train route north of Birmingham is unlikely to be sold before the elections. This opens up the possibility for a Labour government to revive the HS2 rail project, as it is highly improbable that any land acquired for the route will be sold by the time a new government is in place.
Rishi Sunak surprisingly cancelled the project in his Tory conference speech last year, and Keir Starmer has been hesitant to commit to the northern phase of the project, partly due to the government already releasing land between Birmingham and Manchester that was bought for the route.
However, insiders have informed The Observer that the chances of any land north of Birmingham being sold before a new government takes over are extremely slim. Although safeguarding laws protecting a section of the proposed HS2 route to Crewe will be lifted early this year, a future government can reinstate these rules without having to sell the government-owned land.
This means that the next election winner will have the option to revive the project. However, the abrupt cancellation and the challenges in securing the necessary expertise to complete the scheme could result in higher costs for its delivery.
Industry experts believe that the project’s revival is highly unlikely under a government led by Sunak, as the prime minister has been known to oppose the project and its mounting expenses since his time as chancellor. Meanwhile, Labour’s stance is to evaluate the inheritance before making any decisions, although it is becoming evident that reviving the project may not be as impossible as previously thought.
Labour’s leadership is exercising extreme caution in committing to any spending projects that could make them vulnerable to attacks from the Conservatives. Jürgen Maier, former Siemens boss, is conducting a review of the UK railway and transport infrastructure for the party, which may touch on this issue.
A prompt sale of HS2 land is unlikely due to the rigorous legal requirements imposed on the government to offload any land bought for the route. Expedited processes may lead to legal action, and previous sell-offs have taken years to complete.
Rail experts are increasingly baffled by the cancellation of the HS2 route from Birmingham to Crewe, known as “phase 2a.” This section would have resolved an impending capacity shortage on the west coast mainline. Without additional capacity by the end of the decade, experts predict motorway congestion as more trucks take to the roads and higher fares to manage passenger numbers.
There is hope for a privately backed alternative to address the capacity issues caused by the abandonment of HS2. The government is currently examining a project supported by the Tory West Midlands mayor Andy Street and Manchester’s Labour mayor Andy Burnham. This project aims to create a link between Birmingham and Manchester airport with private funding.
A meeting between the group and transport secretary Mark Harper is scheduled for later this month. Although ministers are not obstructing the development of this scheme, concerns have been raised regarding the possibility of taxpayers bearing the cost, especially if train operators are charged for its usage.
A spokesperson from the Department for Transport stated, “The government supports efforts to enhance rail connectivity between Birmingham and Manchester. We are working on a comprehensive program to sell land that is no longer required for phase 2 of HS2. Our approach ensures value for taxpayers and full engagement with affected communities, as outlined in Network North. Safeguarding for phase 2a will be formally lifted in due course, and amendments will be made to phase 2b safeguarding by the summer to accommodate any necessary safeguarding for Northern Powerhouse Rail.”

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