Exclusive: Grant Shapps brands mayors ‘irrational’ over criticism of £96bn Integrated Rail Plan and Northern Powerhouse Rail downgrade

METRO mayors and other critics of the £96bn Integrated Rail Plan have today been branded ‘irrational’ by the Transport Secretary.

The Government's Integrated Rail Plan has led to an escalating war of words between Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and metro mayors.
The Government's Integrated Rail Plan has led to an escalating war of words between Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and metro mayors.

Grant Shapps makes the accusation in an exclusive article for The Yorkshire Post in direct response to mounting criticism over the decision to downgrade Northern Powerhouse Rail, scrap proposals for a new station in Bradford and not build the eastern leg of HS2 in full to Leeds.

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He accuses Dan Jarvis and Steve Rotheram, mayors of South Yorkshire and Liverpool City Region respectively, as well as Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, of being “spectacularly wrong” and “politically motivated”.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps during a visit to Leeds in January 2020.

“The irrational comments of a few people seeking to undermine Government investment in the North will make no difference to their success. We are utterly committed to levelling up, and that’s what we’ll deliver,” writes Mr Shapps.

Today the outspoken remarks met with a furious response from Mr Jarvis who stated that Northern Powerhouse Rail – promised over 60 times by Tory Ministers – was not “some gilded luxury”.

Mayor of South Yorkshire Dan Jarvis attends a meeting of the Transport for the North Board at the Queens Hotel in Leeds, after the Government set out its revised plans for Northern England and the Midlands last November.

And the new row comes amid deteriorating relations between elected mayors in the North and the Department for Transport over the rail plan, and also the amount of disruption that passengers can expect over the next 10 to 15 years because of the decision to overhaul existing routes rather than build new railway lines to increase capacity.

“Mr Shapps thinks we cannot see just how compromised the IRP has been – in the capacity and connectivity it will deliver, and in its ability to help level up the North,” said Mr Jarvis who is also Labour MP for Barnsley Central.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps during a visit to Leeds in January 2020.

“The full plan was not some gilded luxury. It was the minimum needed to rebalance some - not all - of the neglect of the past. Most importantly, it was what they promised – rightly, repeatedly, and unambiguously.

“Under pressure, this government decided the North was where compromises would be made. Mr Shapps thinks people will not notice. He thinks he can repeat the ‘con trick’ of cutting services to the bone for years, then giving a fraction of it back and expecting us to be grateful. He’s not going to get away with it.”

In his column, Mr Shapps also plays down Transport for the North’s warning in this newspaper last week that upgrading the existing rail network will lead to “widespread disruption” for passengers for more than a decade.

“I want passengers to know that the Integrated Rail Plan is intended to minimise disruption to communities, and deliver benefits as fast as possible,” he adds.

“The old blueprint drawn up by TfN, would have meant more disruption to communities and businesses in the middle of Manchester, Warrington and Bradford – and indeed through South Yorkshire.”

Accusing his opponents of demeaning the “single biggest rail investment in UK history”, Mr Shapps suggests that “the travelling public understands there may be some disruption involved” in contrast to political opponents.

His intervention comes 48 hours after the IPPR North think-tank announced that it was launching a ‘promise tracker’ after warning that delays to the long-overdue Levelling Up White Paper threaten to undermine political trust, and exacerbate regional inequalities, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces new accusations about Downing Street staff parties in lockdown.

Meanwhile Tory grandee Sir Patrick McLoughlin is to become the new head of Transport for the North. A former party chairman, he was Transport Secretary from 2012-16 and leading advocate for HS2.

Now a peer, his appointment is due to ratified next week with TfN responsible for advising Ministers on the North’s rail, roads and bus requirements. Its remit has been significantly curtailed by Mr Shapps because of his desire to speed up investment in infrastructure.

Tory MP critical of Northern Powerhouse Rail decision

CRITICS of the Integrated Rail Plan include Tory MP Kevin Hollinrake who represents Thirsk and Malton.

He told Grant Shapps in Parliament on November 18 that a new station in Bradford “would have given a King’s Cross-style regeneration opportunity” to the city.

And in a Commons debate on Tuesday last week about business costs, he reaffirmed his support for “an independent Northern Powerhouse Rail that goes through Bradford from Leeds to Manchester”.

However Mr Hollinrake did tell MPs on June 30 last year: “I do not think for a minute that Northern Powerhouse Rail is under threat.”

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