Controversial Integrated Rail Plan 'can bring rapid benefits for North', insists infrastructure chief

The much-criticised Integrated Rail Plan will bring benefits to the North of England quickly, rather than in 20 to 30 years time, the leader of an organisation that provides advice to the Government says.

Sir John Armitt, the chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, said his commission’s analysis showed that the majority of rail journeys in the north run from east to west, rather than north to south and that is why the organisation he leads recommended to the Government to prioritise this over the Yorkshire leg of HS2.

The Department for Transport subsequently announced it would abandon the Leeds leg of HS2, with a reduced Northern Powerhouse Rail scheme.

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Acknowledging that this move had not been popular, Sir John said that delivering tangible benefits more rapidly would bring greater benefits to the north.

Sir John Armitt is the chair of the National Infrastructure CommissionSir John Armitt is the chair of the National Infrastructure Commission
Sir John Armitt is the chair of the National Infrastructure Commission

“If you can’t afford to do everything at once then at least get on and start doing something,” he told The Yorkshire Post. “Then as more data and money comes through you can move on and continue to develop.”

He added: “We are focusing more on what we can do rather than what is not happening. We have to come to terms with the fact that the Government has made a decision.

“We felt very strongly that improving east to west links, even if that was at the expense of north-south connectivity, was more important, because when you look at the journeys that people make, 60 per cent at least of the journeys of people around here are actually in the north, not going down to London.

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“Therefore if you have a restriction on how much you are going to make then let’s concentrate on what is going to improve connectivity in the north and between the cities of the north because that is more likely to create economic activity.”

The Integrated Rail Plan was published in November and drew the ire of metro mayors in the north, with the Transport for the North organisation branding it “woefully inadequate”.

Additionally the Government has described the plan as a £96bn investment but analysts have highlighted that more than half of this spending relates to proposals already underway or announced.

However Sir John said that it would yield a positive step for northern connectivity.

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“Clearly it does significantly improve Leeds to Manchester,” he said.

“You reduce the journey time by about 30 per cent so that is a significant improvement and it actually does improve Leeds to Birmingham.”

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