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Rishi Sunak scraps northern leg of HS2 rail line

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LONDON — Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that the remaining leg of the long-planned High Speed Rail 2 project has been scrapped. 

HS2, a multibillion pound high-speed rail route meant to connect Leeds, Birmingham, and Manchester to London, was announced by then-Prime Minister David Cameron in 2013.

Originally meant to connect the North of England to the capital of London, Sunak announced on Wednesday that “the rest of the HS2 project” will be canceled, referring to everything beyond a line from London to Birmingham in the West Midlands which is already under construction.

In his speech at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, the prime minister said the remaining £36 billion earmarked for HS2 will instead be reinvested in “hundreds of new transport projects in the North and the Midlands, across the country.”

Announcing the changes, Sunak said: “I say to those who backed the project in the first place, the facts have changed, and the right thing to do when the facts change, is to have the courage to change direction.”

The prime minister said he would “protect the £12 billion to link up Manchester and Liverpool as planned,” and also vowed to build a new “Midlands rail hub” to connect 50 different stations. He said he would extend the West Midlands Metro, build a tram system in Leeds, and electrify the north Wales mainline, as well as upgrading a series of major roads.

Sunak vowed to create a new “Euston Development Zone,” wherein thousands of new homes will replace the current building site for an HS2 terminal at London’s Euston station.

While HS2 is deeply controversial with some Conservatives concerned about spiraling costs and disruption to their constituencies, the move is likely to generate a backlash from local leaders.

Conservative mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street has previously disputed the claim that tens of billions can be reinvested in the short term by scrapping HS2.

He told POLITICO on Tuesday that such claims would be “spin,” as the cost of the Manchester leg of HS2 is largely not yet on government balance sheets. He said money that can be reallocated “exists in long-term years, but it doesn’t exist in the current spending horizon.”

Dan Bloom contributed reporting.

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