14 MAR 2023


The Association for Consultancy and Engineering, ACE, has issued a warning that the UK’s reputation for delivering large-scale construction and infrastructure projects is on the line, following the  decision to delay construction of significant aspects of HS2 by two years.

Ahead of the Budget, ACE, which champions infrastructure and the built environment - with member firms employing over 60,000 people in the UK and over 250,000 worldwide - says the move is a “false economy” that also risks damaging the reputation of the sector in the UK.

It is urging chancellor Jeremy Hunt to reconsider, following Secretary of State for Transport Mark Harper’s announcement that parts of the HS2 line between Birmingham, Crewe and Manchester will be “rephased” by two years, meaning the line to Crewe may not be open until 2036, and Manchester would not open until 2043.

Stephen Marcos Jones, chief executive officer of ACE, acknowledged that large-scale infrastructure projects like HS2 are naturally subject to market fluctuations and that plans would always be subject to changes at different stages.

However, he called the decision an “absolutely false economy” claiming these significant delays would inevitably lead to higher costs in the longer term – as well as severely hampering efforts to level up in the North.

“While we are delighted that work is continuing on the current core route between Old Oak Common and Birmingham, it is deeply disappointing that the vital HS2 benefits of connecting more quickly with the North are being delayed,” he said.

“Long experience of postponement of other major infrastructure projects invariably leads to an increase in overall costs as well as an overall loss of benefits – the problems of regional disparities across the UK remain acute and this decision to delay construction will have a direct impact on the urgent need to level up the country.  

“Levelling up is not an abstract notion – it affects real people - and this delay will lead to reduced opportunities for huge numbers of people.”

As the HS2 project is being viewed on a global stage, the delays also risk damaging the UK’s international reputation for delivering large infrastructure projects.

“What the rest of the world thinks about our ability to deliver major infrastructure projects is impaired by this major setback,” said Jones.

“Having to announce such a delay could hamper industry confidence and cause reputational damage to the UK.”

In its 2023 policy manifesto ACE, whose members contribute more than £15 billion to the UK economy and over £570 billion globally each year, recognised that current and future Governments face a huge challenge when deciding how to invest in transport, whilst simultaneously working to decarbonise it and ensure the delivery of better value. 

ACE’s Transport and Mobility Advocacy Group, made up of a variety of large and small consultant engineering businesses, also recognises better transport systems lead to better businesses, connectivity and even better health and wellbeing - and are key to unlocking other ambitions for the country, from regional development to levelling up. 

The organisation has called for the Integrated Rail plan to be delivered in full – including HS2 – to realise the economic and social benefits these projects will bring.

Following the announcement on delays to HS2, Jones said it was vital to get “all the key players around the table, talking about how we can deliver this much-needed project as quickly and efficiently as possible”.

“This transformational project will bring great benefits and the more it gets delayed, the more we are hampering the recovery of Britain’s economy and the levelling up agenda,” he said.

“We need to make sure we keep delivering on projects such as this and refrain from stopping and starting them, with all the longer-term costs this will add.”

ACE has long called for greater collaboration between those working in the transport policy space. 

It specifically recommends reforming ways of working within the Department for Transport, to deliver an integrated approach to transport nationwide, bringing together policy specialists from across the sector.

Speaking about the impact the global rise in inflation has had on HS2 and other infrastructure projects, Jones asks: “How does the industry allow for that or deal with that on an ongoing basis?

“The answers can only be found by increasing collaborative approaches to these issues and we should use the time we now have to reflect on good practice and plan to make the next phase even better and more efficient. 

“There needs to be a much longer-term view of how we plan the nation’s infrastructure and a shared understanding across all political parties.”

He added: “The Government and policymakers working in the transport and infrastructure sector need to have a major rethink about how these projects are formed and promoted to the public.”

Read the 2023 ACE Policy Manifesto.


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