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Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has today unveiled the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP), the government’s proposals for investment in the rail network across the UK.
Plans revealed show a particular focus on improving journey times in the North and Midlands of England and commit to a package of £96 billion of works including commitments towards high-speed links that will improve East to West connections. Once works are completed, journey times between Manchester and Leeds will be cut to 33 minutes, 35 minutes between Manchester and Liverpool, and with HS2 reducing journey times between Manchester and Birmingham to under an hour.
The IRP commits to completing HS2’s western leg from Crewe to Manchester Airport and Manchester Piccadilly, as well as new line between Birmingham and East Midlands Parkway for onward links to Leeds and the North-east. Proposals also confirm the electrification of the Transpennine route between Manchester, Leeds and York, and a new high-speed line between Warrington and Manchester that will form part of the Northern Powerhouse Rail route to greatly improve connectivity between Northern cities.
Other proposals in the North and Midlands include electrification work to the East Coast Mainline between London, Leeds and the North-east and the Midland Mainline between Nottingham, Derby and Sheffield, as well as a new mass-transit system for Leeds. £360 million has also been allocated to improve ticketing, bringing in London-style contactless ticketing for commuter services in the region, and ensure a nationwide rollout of online and mobile tickets across all rail providers.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said:
“Our plan is ambitious, deliverable and backed by the largest single government investment ever made in our rail network. It will deliver punctual, frequent and reliable journeys for everyone, wherever they live.
“Just as the Victorians gave this country our railways nearly 200 years ago, this Integrated Rail Plan will create a modern, expanded railway fit for today and future generations. Significant improvements will be delivered rapidly, bringing communities closer together, creating jobs and making places more attractive to business, and in doing so, rebalancing opportunity across the country.
“Our plans go above and beyond the initial ambitions of HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail by delivering benefits for communities no matter their size, right across the North and Midlands, up to 10 to 15 years earlier.”
While the plans set out represent the biggest ever financial investment in the UK’s railways, they have also come under fire for failing for go far enough, and in some cases appearing to renege on commitments made by the Prime Minister. In particular, criticisms have been levelled at the downgrading of HS2’s Eastern leg, which will now use existing track for much of the journey between Birmingham and Leeds, reducing journey times but failing to increase capacity for increased services.
Plans for a new underground station at Manchester Piccadilly to connect HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail and alleviate rail traffic through congested lines in central Manchester were also omitted from the IRP. The UK’s seventh largest city, Bradford, will also be bypassed by improved Manchester to Leeds connections, a decision described by West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin as a ‘betrayal.’
Sir Roger Marsh, chair of the NP11 group of Northern local enterprise partnerships representing businesses from Cheshire to the Scottish border, said:
“Naturally I am disappointed that our communities will not now benefit from the once-in-a-generation opportunity that Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 in full represented.
“Historic underinvestment in transport has held back the North’s potential for decades, costing UK plc hundreds of billions of pounds of lost economic output while levelling down living standards.
“While the Integrated Rail Plan does confirm some welcome investment in several parts of the North, this will not deliver the transformational boost to rail capacity and connectivity that these two major schemes offered.
“It is true that the North needs to see transport investment now, not just in 20 years’ time, however our position has always been clear that to truly level up the North and deliver the economic growth we can and want to achieve, we need the full package of local, regional and pan-northern investment that successive Governments have promised.
“We will continue to work with northern leaders, MPs and businesses to make the case for this investment and in the meantime will be holding the Government to its word that the people and businesses of the North will see the benefits of the investment confirmed today immediately.”
Chris Fletcher, Policy Director of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, commented:
“After such a prolonged and delayed build up we were really expecting a lot more from the Integrated Rail Plan around brand-new lines, investment and capacity where they are needed most, linking the major economic centres across the north and opening access to the Midlands and beyond.
“The original aim of previous schemes and strategies such as the Northern Powerhouse, was to add in vital extra rail capacity that would allow the unlocking of labour markets across the north to allow the easier movement of people to access a wider range of job opportunities. Extra capacity is also needed for freight, which could in turn help take more trucks off the roads. We were expecting news that would deliver this capacity and finally deliver a public transport system that works for everyone. This would have given a genuine boost to the economy and help deliver what, we think, government means by levelling up. It would have also made a significant impact on net-zero targets by allowing the removal of thousands of car journeys by giving people a genuine alternative where currently one does not exist.
“Instead, we have a patchwork quilt of upgrades that roughly costs the same, will mean greater disruption to existing users and will not deliver the capacity uplift that is needed. More trains on existing track can only result in a poorer service than at present. We have been down this route before following years of upgrades on the West Coast Mainline that went over budget, over timescale, created huge disruption for passengers and didn’t deliver the long-term improvements they needed to.
“Whilst the new high-speed lines are welcomed – they still fall way short of what is actually needed, what many were expecting and indeed the delivery of which we had been assured of by government. Upgrades are fine but will not deliver the step change we need or have needed for the past decade to unlock economic growth in the north and beyond.
“With the Levelling Up White Paper due in the next few weeks it will be intriguing to see how the watered-down rail plan will impact on the government’s much heralded strategy to level up the country. Off the evidence today there is now an even greater challenge to deliver this successfully and in effect government have made it harder for themselves to do this.”