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Northern businesses issue last-ditch HS2 warning ahead of Sunak conference speech

Businesses from across the North, and those with a significant presence there, have put their names to a letter warning PM Rishi Sunak against the expected cancellation of the Northern leg of the HS2 high-speed rail line to Manchester.

The businesses, which included Kraftheinz, Bruntwood, Manchester Airports Group and Manchester United, as well as both of Manchester’s biggest indoor arenas, the AO Arena and Co-op Live, and Manchester University.

The letter stated: “Cancelling HS2 would be a major act of economic self-sabotage and damage our international standing as a place to do business.” It added: “You hold the future prosperity of the North and Midlands in your hands.”

There was still no official announcement about HS2 from government as the third day of the Conservative Party Conference drew to a close last night, although Newsnight was confident enough to report that Sunak definitely will bring the axe down on the project in his speech to conference at 11.15am on Wednesday, despite the repeated insistences that “no decision has been taken.” Political editor Nicholas Watt said sources had told him that £37m of savings will be invested in projects including a new rail link from Liverpool to Leeds and improvements to Northern roads and bus services.

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, who had a last ditch meeting with Levelling Up secretary with Michael Gove yesterday afternoon to present the case for retaining the Northern leg, described the predicted decision to the programme as “devastating for the city region and the North as a whole” and said it would widen the North/South divide and result in a smaller economy and “second-class citizens” in the North.

He added that Manchester’s leaders had been “shut out” from the decision making process and that “announcing this decision in Manchester I think just shows contempt for the place. Not to speak to the leader of Manchester City Council, not to speak to me…Is that any way to treat the good people of Greater Manchester and the wider North? I don’t think it is.”

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