HS2 was meant to be the high-speed rail network that would finally connect northern cities to the south. Still, amid ongoing controversies and expense, the northern leg of the project was scrapped in October 2023 by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
The stretch between the West Midlands and Manchester has been axed, with Sunak saying at the time that funds would be ‘redirected’ into supporting ‘rail, roads and buses’, with the government saying that £36bn would be spent on transport improvements.
At a time when the roads are reported to be in their worst state for decades, the AA stated that it had more than 50,000 breakdown callouts for vehicles damaged by potholes in October – a 12 per cent increase compared to the previous year.
This funding has the possibility of making a significant difference on UK roads, but how much is likely to be set aside, and what is the difference that will be made? Let’s take a look.
How much HS2 money will be spent on the roads?
Transport Secretary Mark Harper announced that diverting funds away from HS2 will result in an allocation of an ‘£8.3bn long-term plan’ to be spent on the roads. This is only a fairly small share of the ‘£36bn in transport improvements’ that was first announced, however. The government says it had already confirmed £5.5bn up until 2024/2025, but this extended allocation is set to last until 2034.
According to the government, it will provide ‘long-term certainty’ to local authorities and ‘help to prevent potholes from coming back in the future’.
How will the money be distributed?
It will be up to individual local authorities to decide how they spend the money on the roads, and which routes are prioritised. The government says that authorities would be given ‘£150m this financial year’ and then a further £150m for 2024/2025. The rest of the funding is said to be ‘allocated through to 2034’.
The share of the £8.3bn will be divided across local authorities, with the North West, North East, Yorkshire and the Humber getting £3.3bn, while the West Midlands and East Midlands will receive £2.2bn. Finally, local authorities in the East of England, South East, South West and London will get the remaining. The full breakdown of what local authorities will be allocated can be found here.
Will it actually make any difference to the UK’s roads?
While any more money going towards funding should be welcomed, there are already signs that even funding on this level might not be enough to fix the condition of the UK’s roads.
According to the Asphalt Industry Alliance, which produces an ‘Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance’ survey, £14bn is currently needed to fix the backlog of road repairs, which works out as £68,000 mile for every local road. It’s clear that even the £8.3bn that is being diverted from HS2 onto the roads doesn’t appear to be enough to fix and repair the current state of Britain’s roads – and by some margin.
There have also been questions raised about the long-term impact of scrapping HS2. While there’s no escaping the huge expense of the project, the fact that these high-speed trains won’t be running anywhere further north of Birmingham is seen as a blow for northern cities such as Manchester when ‘levelling up’ has been promised so often by the current government.
Councils have also said they needed longer-term plans in place for funding local roads.
Darren Rodwell, a spokesman for the Local Government Association (LGA), told the BBC: “Longer-term, the government should award council highways departments with five yearly funding allocations to give more certainty, bringing councils on a par with National Highways so they can develop resurfacing programmes and other highways improvements, tackling the scourge of potholes."