Don't cut us out of your high speed rail plans, Transport for the North leaders urge Ministers

Northern leaders have urged the Government to work with them to deliver much-needed transport improvements as they formally set out their preferred route for the region's flagship high speed rail scheme.

Transport for the North has sought assurances from Ministers that it won't be cut out of its leadership role on Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) as it wrote to government with its plan for a preferred route network.

It comes after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told TfN last month that it could not submit its full business case for the scheme connecting the major cities of the North until after he had published the Government's Integrated Rail Plan (IRP).

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Grant Shapps orders leaders to delay business case for Northern Powerhouse Rail ...
Tim Wood, Northern Powerhouse Rail Director at Transport for the North

The IRP, which is expected to be published later this month, will set out how NPR will fit in with other schemes like HS2. But it may require the current business plan for NPR to be amended or scaled back if the budget for the plan is lower than hoped for.

Though large parts of the network have been agreed with the Department for Transport, there is still no agreement on whether the Leeds-Manchester leg should stop in Bradford city centre or miss the city out to save money.

Leaders agree that now is not the time to scale back on ambition and say Government should commit to the full, transformational vision for both Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2. They say both will define the North’s economic future for the rest of this century, boosting jobs and growth.

Other elements of NPR include significant upgrades and electrification of the rail lines from Leeds and Sheffield to Hull and it is hoped the scheme could start construction in the mid-2020s.

Tim Wood, Northern Powerhouse Rail Director at Transport for the North, said: “This is the culmination of years of work on the original Northern Powerhouse vision to radically connect the North’s communities by rail; create jobs; and boost the Northern economy for decades to come.

"Communities and businesses want to see certainty on what will be delivered and when, in order to make key investment decisions and create new opportunities.

“We hope that the significant body of evidence, worked up alongside the Department for Transport, will be reflected in an ambitious commitment to investment in the North in the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan.

"We can then swiftly press on with joint delivery for the Northern public. We’ve done the work together, now let’s get on and deliver for the North together.”

In its statutory advice to government, TfN has also sought assurances that they’ll continue to have a full joint leadership role in the programme going forward, including keeping its co-sponsorship role of Northern Powerhouse Rail to set the direction, outcomes and delivery of the project.

It has also asked to be consulted and involved in the development of the Integrated Rail Plan as it relates to the North.

Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said: "Business and civic leaders from across the North have made it clear that an integrated rail network of new and upgraded lines east to west, as well as north to south, is critical to levelling up.

"We now need to get spades in the ground as soon as we can, building Northern Powerhouse Rail in phases. We must start construction on upgrades, such as the East Coast Mainline north of York, alongside re-opening the Leamside Line and new tracks from Leeds to Bradford with a new station.

"A phased approach based on delivering the full network at the end of the programme will provide maximum impact for Northern communities as quickly as possible, delivering higher productivity and prosperity, as well as closing the North - South divide."

A DfT spokesman said last month: “Northern Powerhouse Rail is a key part of the Government’s agenda to level-up the North and our Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) will soon outline how the programme will boost connectivity across the region and provide faster more frequent services for passengers.

“We want to get this vital project underway as soon as possible and we have therefore asked TfN to submit their business case after the IRP to ensure the rapid alignment of plans and swifter progress.”