THE £96 billion Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands has been greeted with bitter criticism in the north of England. Transport secretary Grant Shapps has decided to cut back the eastern leg of HS2 to terminate at East Midlands Parkway, but a new line will be built from Warrington to the 'western borders' of Yorkshire, while three main lines will be upgraded.
The Midland and Transpennine Main Lines will be electrified, while the East Coast Main Line is to be upgraded with line speed improvements and digital signalling.
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.'
The Rail Delivery Group's director general Andy Bagnall responded: 'Rail has a vital role to play in driving the new economy and the fair, clean recovery the country wants to see. While millions of people will benefit from this major investment in boosting connectivity between major cities in the North of England and the Midlands, leaving out key pieces of the jigsaw will inevitably hold back the ability for the railways to power the levelling up agenda and the drive to net zero.'
The elements which have been cut back have angered some politicians and business leaders in the North.
Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram said: 'The Integrated Rail Plan was a once in a generation opportunity to revolutionise our country’s rail network. Properly delivered, it had the potential to be as transformative for rail travel as Stephenson’s Rocket. Instead, they have proposed a service that could have been promoted by Gladstone in the Victorian era.
'What we have seen is a government pretending to deliver that transformation but doing it on the cheap. Communities across the North have been held back for decades, forced to accept sticking plaster solutions and grossly underfunded by government. Today’s announcement is a continuation of that.'
Cllr Martin Gannon, who chairs the North East Joint Transport Committee, said: 'This is a hammer-blow for the North East and is the very opposite of levelling up. I’m not quite sure what our area has done to deserve such contempt. The Government appears to be arbitrarily ruling out major investment in the East Coast Main Line in our region, as well as confirming it won’t build HS2 to Yorkshire or the North East, and the Northern Powerhouse Rail plan seems to have been scaled back to a minor upgrade that is pretty much what was already promised – and not delivered – a decade ago. The Government has failed our region when it comes to ECML connectivity and I’m sure that everyone, including the business community and politicians from every party will feel as exasperated as I do on this.'
Meanwhile Cllr Louise Gittins, who is interim chair of Transport for the North, agreed with her colleagues on other councils, saying: 'Today’s announcement is woefully inadequate. After decades of underfunding, the rail network in the North is not fit for purpose. It is largely twin-track Victorian infrastructure trying to cope with the demands of a 21st Century economy. Leaders from across the North and from across the party political divide came together to ask for a network that would upgrade the North for this century and in line with the rest of the country. Our statutory advice asked for an over £40 billion network but the Government has decided to provide even less than half of that.'
Labour leader Keir Starmer said: 'Yesterday, Boris Johnson admitted he crashed the car when it came to sleaze. Today, he has derailed the trains.
'He’s taking the country absolutely nowhere.'