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Rail plans ‘tinkering around edges not transformation of transport in the North’

MPs have expressed outrage over the expected scaling back of railway plans for the North. The Department for Transport (DfT) will, on Thursday, publish its Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) featuring GBP96 billion of investment in the Midlands and the North which is expected to show major revisions to previously announced goals. While the Government has touted the programme as part of its move towards levelling up the country, it is expected to confirm the eastern leg of HS2 will be scrapped between the East Midlands and Leeds.

Concerns have also grown over expected work on east-west connections across the North, known as Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), which are likely to involve a combination of new track and upgrades to existing infrastructure. Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves, who is also the MP for Leeds West, said it seems that promises made in four successive Conservative manifestos to bring HS2 to Leeds and Yorkshire will be scrapped today. She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “What we are getting is tinkering around the edges rather than the proper transformation of transport in the north of England.

“Already Yorkshire has the lowest level of capital investment in transport than anywhere in the country. “Capital investment in transport in the north of England is half the level that you see in London and the South East. “We have been badly done by for many years now.”


(PA Graphics)

Shadow secretary of state for transport Jim McMahon told Times Radio the North is being betrayed by the decision to scrap part of the HS2 extension.

He said: “We want to hold the Government to account for the promises that they made because it goes beyond actually just transport investment. It goes to the heart of politics.” Writing in the Yorkshire Post, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Government’s planned investments would still mean “faster journeys, to more places, more quickly” for Yorkshire, while confirming a new study to plan how best to eventually link Leeds to the HS2 network.

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The Post reported the IRP was expected to confirm the HS2 route to Leeds would be axed in favour of a Birmingham to East Midlands Parkway line. High-speed trains would travel on slower track to Sheffield, meaning HS2 trains would reach Yorkshire but the high-speed line itself would not, the paper said.

In his column, Mr Johnson wrote: “HS2 will come to Sheffield, meaning a trip to or from London will take just one hour 27 minutes – precisely the same as under the old HS2 plans. “We’ll look at how to get HS2 to Leeds too, with a new study on the best way to make it happen. “But high-speed rail is grindingly slow to build.

Under the original blueprint, first drawn up more than a decade ago, Yorkshire would have not have seen the benefits of our investment until at least the 2040s. Levelling up can’t wait that long. And towns like Wakefield, Doncaster, Dewsbury and Huddersfield would have suffered as trains were taken off the existing main lines.”

The DfT insisted it will “transform” journeys to and between the East and West Midlands, Yorkshire and the North West, with benefits delivered “up to 10 years sooner”. It said in a statement that “the full HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail schemes as originally proposed would not enter service until the early to mid-2040s”. One of the aims of the IRP was to increase capacity and have more frequent services “in a way that presented value for money for the taxpayer”, according to the department.

“From London and across the Pennines, the IRP delivers journey times which are the same as, similar to or faster than the original HS2 and Leeds-Manchester proposals, while doubling or trebling capacity and ensuring passengers and consumers benefit from tangible changes more quickly.” The Government-commissioned Oakervee Review warned in 2018 that the final bill for the entire Y-shaped network of HS2 could reach GBP106 billion. Phase 1 will run between London and Birmingham, and Phase 2a between Birmingham and Crewe.

Phase 2b was due to extend the line between Crewe and Manchester, and between Birmingham and Leeds, although the later stretch is expected to be curtailed.