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Is HS2 Dead, Or Can A New Plan Keep It On Track?

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson

The UK's Brexit crisis is (probably) in its terminal phases, with Saturday 19 October likely to see historic decisions.

Which makes Friday an ideal moment to bury bad news about the controversial and expensive HS2 high speed rail project.

As it happens, Douglas Oakervee's review of the £100B project, a review ordered in one of the first decisions of Boris Johnson, the prime minister, is due to be handed to the government on Friday.

What will it say?

There are reports that the Birmingham-East Midlands-Yorkshire leg of the HS2 project is to be scrapped. There are separate reports that the Yorkshire cities will instead be linked into HS2 through a new high speed rail line across the Pennines to Manchester, the so-called Northern Powerhouse Rail. This would cut Manchester to Leeds journey times from over an hour to just 20 minutes.

In London, HS2 Ltd. has already spent £1.2B (of £7B total) on preliminary works around Euston station amidst reports that the line will now end not at Euston, but at Old Oak Common to the north-west.

Now a Northern Powerhouse study completed to aid the Oakervee review has been published, and combined with leaks from the review, it joins the dots between the two sets of speculation, and presents a possible shape of a new HS2 project.

The Northern Powerhouse Rail Review, chaired by Bruntwood Chief Executive Chris Oglesby, is calling for the North and Midlands to take control of the project, Business Desk reports.

Grimshaw's designs for the interior of the Euston HS2 terminal

The review recommends the establishment of HS2 North — a special purpose vehicle working along the same lines as the statutory Olympic Delivery Authority which took control of the infrastructure for the London 2012 Olympics.

The new body would link the trans-Pennine high speed rail into the north-south route, and achieve this faster than the current 2040 timetable for connecting the northern cities.

Projects including Manchester's 8.7M SF Portugal Street East and Birmingham's Nikal-led studio complex in Digbeth, hinge on the completion of HS2.

If the Northern Powerhouse lobby succeed, then they will have turned a project designed to connect the UK regions to London, into a project which connects the UK through a transport hub in Manchester.

Johnson has been sceptical about the benefits of HS2, but very positive about the appeal of a trans-Pennine high speed rail link. A Johnson-led Conservative government anxious to show it 'gets' the regions, and aware of the many marginal commuter belt seats and Labour 'leave' constituencies spread out across the Pennines, might enjoy claiming the credit for such a rethink.