Grant Shapps accuses Northern mayors of 'pure politics' over Integrated Rail Plan criticisms

Grant Shapps has labelled criticisms of the Government’s controversial Integrated Rail Plan as “pure politics”.

The Transport Secretary criticised northern mayors for their comments about the IRP, which was published in November and saw the HS2 Eastern leg to Leeds scrapped and included a decision not to go ahead with the full Northern Powerhouse Route between Leeds and Manchester via Bradford.

The decisions mean Yorkshire is currently only due to receive around two miles of new high-speed track and the plans were labelled “woefully inadequate” by the Transport for the North organisation when they were published in November while local leaders hit out at the proposals.

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The Government has described the plan as a £96bn investment but analysts have highlighted that more than £40bn of this relates to completing the already-underway HS2 line between London and the West Midlands with a further £17bn going to further long-promised HS2 work between Crewe and Manchester.

Grant Shapps has hit back at critics of the Integrated Rail Plan.

Meanwhile, the Eastern leg of HS2 will now finish in the East Midlands rather than reaching Yorkshire, while the investment in Northern Powerhouse Rail is £17.2bn rather than the full £42.1bn plan that had been put forward by northern leaders and TfN to better connect cities from Liverpool to Hull, up to Newcastle and down to Sheffield.

But Mr Shapps told the Transport Select Committee he believed the criticism of the IRP to be unjustified.

When asked why he thought there had some negative reaction to the IRP, he replied: “I’m afraid a lot of it just comes down to pure politics.

“It is a demonstration it is possible to spend £96bn – the most money the Government has ever spent on upgrading rail in the Midlands and North – and still attract negative comment.

“For example, one mayor called it a ‘pittance’ and another ‘crumbs off the table’. If £96bn is a pittance then there are many other mayors who would say yes.

“If you look at the journey time improvements, they are extreme – 12 minutes to get from Bradford to Leeds. That is a proper London-style connection between two great Northern cities.”

But following questions from committee chairman Huw Merriman, Mr Shapps subsequently accepted that the planned 12 minute journey time between Bradford and Leeds will only be possible with a major redevelopment of the track system around Leeds railway station.

A £100m Government study addressing the issues around Leeds station and how to potentially run HS2 services to it was promised as part of the Integrated Rail Plan but is yet to begin.

Mr Shapps earlier insisted during his evidence that there will be “dramatically faster journeys to Leeds” under the IRP.

“I think there was a little bit of disingenuous talk about this. I think residents on the ground are going to – given the steer they have been provided by some of their leaders about how they were getting a pittance – be stunned to discover journey times in some cases halved and dramatically improved and many more communities served.

“Many communities that weren’t going to get a look in under the original plan now get train services that are faster and more reliable.”

Responding to his remarks, West Yorkshire mayor Tracy Brabin said criticisms were based on nothing more than seeking the right public transport connections for the region. She also criticised the ongoing wait for details about the Government's promised study into getting HS2 to Leeds and other connected issues.

“As I said to the Transport Select Committee in February, objections to the IRP are not partisan, but about getting the right transport connections for the people of West Yorkshire to meet the ambitions for our region," she said.

“HS2 and a new high-speed line between Leeds and Manchester, with that crucial stop in Bradford, would have brought additional jobs and investment to the region. They would also drive forward redevelopment around the new stations, as we’ve seen happen elsewhere.

“We may disagree with the decisions government made in the IRP, but we’re committed to working with them to deliver what has been promised.

“We’re already in regular contact with the Department, Network Rail and Train Operators to ensure that the welcome upgrade to the Trans Pennine Route delivers on the benefits that we have been calling for.

“However, six months on, we’re still waiting for government to agree the scope of the promised study to get High Speed Trains to Leeds. We stand ready to get this going, but government indecision is preventing us.”

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