Transport Committee inquiry findings
Today, the Transport Committee has released its mixed inquiry findings into the Integrated Rail Plan, the £96Bn flagship government levelling up policy which set out how Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 would be integrated to deliver a network of high speed lines across the Midlands and the North.
While the committee report does welcome the scale of the Government’s promised spending on improving rail in the North and the Midlands, it is also starkly headlined with a critical assessment of how some of the options and the benefits of these were assessed. The report states that,
“A thorough reassessment of the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan is essential to ensure this once-in-a-generation investment in rail is not a missed opportunity to address regional imbalances”.
What is the Integrated Rail Plan?
On the back of the Oakervee review and following a final submission from the National Infrastructure Commission, a new Integrated Rail Plan for the Midlands and the North was announced in November 2021. It outlines how to develop and deliver HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail, the Midlands Rail Hub, and major Network Rail Projects.
It was presented to Parliament by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps who pledged the investment would deliver faster and better journeys to more people across the North and the Midlands.
The views of the Transport for the North (TfN) Board, as one voice for the North, fed into the Integrated Rail Plan. The evidence reflected the ambition and vision of the North for the national rail network.
This work showed the vast capacity and journey time benefits that could be realised, alongside other investment in Transport for the North’s Strategic Transport Plan, which is in the process of being refreshed.
The Sub-National Transport Body Midlands Connect also provided evidence from the Midlands region.
With such a strong cross-party call for a review by many in regional political circles and by the committee, the new Prime Minister and their departments will undoubtedly have some tough decisions to make at a time where the North is questioning some of the levelling up policies that have been rolled out.
Just yesterday, a widely circulated report by IPPR North suggested that the gap in public spending between London and the North has doubled.
This coincided with a coordinated newspaper campaign in the region warning the Conservative leadership candidates against turning their back on the North. Eyes are also firmly on what comes next for the promised £100m study to bring HS2 trains to Leeds, with the West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin describing it as being “left in limbo”.
However, while some wider regional connectivity has been scaled back, there have also been very welcome commitments to the TransPennine Route Upgrade, with spending trebled to £9bn to deliver more comprehensive East – West electrification between Manchester and York.
Despite the large investments needed to replace our Victorian infrastructure, it is clear that there is still huge support for rail spending in turbulent times.
With both Conservative leadership candidates pledging commitments to spur on new economic growth and with the ongoing need to tackle climate change, the North’s and Midlands’ rail plans could be a good place to start.
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