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ICE briefing paper: the cancellation of HS2’s northern leg – learning lessons

25 April 2024

The ICE has launched a Next Steps policy programme to identify lessons for policymakers and practitioners from the cancellation of the UK’s High Speed 2 (HS2) northern leg.

Understanding why this flagship rail project was cut short is key to improving how infrastructure is planned, promoted, developed and delivered.

This programme focuses on decision-making in planning, procurement and delivery on HS2, and the people, culture and context in which those decisions were made.

That the prime minister alone could decide to cancel the northern leg is notable.

However, support for HS2 had begun to evaporate. The reasons can be traced to how the strategic case for the project was initially packaged and sold to parliamentarians.

Shallow political support, spiralling costs and the high turnover of politicians overseeing HS2 made the prime minister’s decision to cancel the northern leg much easier politically.

This initial briefing paper sets out emerging lessons from the ICE’s initial research:

  • There’s a need for better corporate governance on who makes decisions, and how and when these decisions are made.
  • There’s a need for stronger client and departmental capability – particularly on technical assurance and ‘owning the project’.
  • The contracting approach didn’t set the project up for best-practice delivery.
  • Major projects and programmes require clarity and consistency on outcomes to achieve political and public buy-in.
  • Any programme of this scale and significance needs to spend more time in development.

We want to hear from you

Through its, the ICE convenes global public debates to discuss what needs to happen next on key policy issues affecting civil engineering and society.

Attend the panel debate

The briefing paper provides a scene setter for discussing lessons, positive and negative, to learn from HS2’s cancellation.

The ICE wants to hear responses from infrastructure professionals and other experts to the issues set out in the paper.

In particular, we want to hear insights and evidence we may have missed and challenges to these initial findings.

These will inform an updated briefing paper that will be published in the summer.

Please contact [email protected] to share your views by 31 May 2024.

ICE briefing paper: the cancellation of HS2’s northern leg – learning lessons

Content type: Policy

Last updated: 25/04/2024

Author: ICE policy team

  • David Hawkes, head of policy at ICE