Committee says government must re-assess rail plan

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, the Commons Transport Committee has said.

The Committee’s report says that alternative options ‘which could transform stations and city centres in key Northern cities’ have not been properly tested.

The Committee says lack of data about the wider economic implications means that value for money and economic returns cannot be calculated. It is calling for a full analysis of the wider economic impacts and a full benefit-cost ratio for the different Northern Powerhouse Rail options. If the results demonstrate that other options offer better value, MPs on the Committee say the government ‘must grasp the nettle’ and make the necessary changes.

It points out that the revised Eastern leg of HS2 Phase 2b will go no further than East Midlands Parkway, and HS2 Limited was unable to tell the Committee how much the shortened route would cost. As a result, the Committee has called on the Department for Transport to publish an updated benefit-cost ratio for HS2 as a whole, including a direct comparison between the original and revised Eastern leg, by March 2023.

The government is also being warned that the original purpose of Northern Powerhouse Rail, which was to connect the ‘great cities of the north to build a northern powerhouse’, is at risk. Some towns and cities have already been disappointed by decisions, says the report, which looks at the implications for Leeds and Bradford in particular. Work is urgently needed to demonstrate the Government’s commitment to high-speed connections to Leeds. MPs are also asking the gvernment to commit to supporting the redevelopment of the city’s station by 2035.

The Committee is concerned that the case for the Intergrated Rail Plan is based on a best-case scenario which ‘may not come to pass’. The promised journey times may not be achievable and the issue of how to increase track capacity, including for local services and freight, has been overlooked.

The Committee’s chair Huw Merriman said: ‘We welcome the scale of the government’s promised spending on rail. At £96 billion, the government has billed it ‘the largest single rail investment ever made by a UK Government’. The Committee agrees it has the potential to transform rail travel for future generations.

‘However, many towns and cities are already disappointed by the proposals which have been set out. The Prime Minister promised that he would, with Northern Powerhouse Rail, do for the North what he did for Londoners with Crossrail. Instead, much of the track will be an upgrade of existing line. The business case of HS2 was based on it going east to Leeds. Now, it stops in the East Midlands without any understanding of how much money is saved. Those we spoke to from the cities of Leeds and Bradford, in particular, do not recognise that the finalised plans meet either the promises they believe were made or the Prime Minister’s stated aims.

‘An investment of this substantial sum must be based on the best evidence and the best value for money.  It must bring the greatest overall benefit to rail services, the economy, environment and communities across the North and Midlands.’

Labour’s shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said: ‘Communities are paying the price for broken Tory promises on rail, which will leave the north and midlands in the slow lane for decades to come and hold our economy back.

‘After 12 years of failure people are sick and tired of the empty words of this discredited government, and the continuity Tory leadership candidates only offer more of the same.’