Standing at the dispatch box yesterday, Richmond MP Rishi Sunak could only say that the Integrated Rail Plan would be delivered “soon” after several pushbacks.
Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission Sir John Armitt described the “ongoing uncertainty” over the future of the Birmingham to Leeds rail link and others which could be resolved with the appearance of the IRP as “not in anyone’s best interest”.
After an hour-long Budget that was filled with promises of levelling up cash, leaders from across the North have criticised the lack of detail on transport projects.
Reacting to the speech, Sir John said: “Ongoing uncertainty hanging over major rail schemes in the North and Midlands is not in anyone’s best interest, not least because of the timescales involved in taking such large projects from aspiration to delivery.
“We gave our own independent assessment of options to government ten months ago. The Government’s plan should be published without further delay to help unlock economic growth across the north and break the cycle of committing to schemes only to later reopen or rescope them.”
Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership Henri Murison welcomed the “huge boost” that has been promised for transport, but added: “There is still a huge hole in the government’s plans for levelling up with no clear commitment to either HS2 or a new Northern Powerhouse Rail line through Bradford in today’s speech.
“Until the IRP is published, uncertainty will continue to undermine business confidence and put a dampener on attracting investment to the north of England.”
Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin voiced similar concerns, saying that communities have “grown tired of waiting”.
“Whilst we welcome the Government’s local transport plans, with a much needed £830m investment, it’s only part of the answer,” she said.
“There was nothing today on HS2 East, and nothing on Northern Powerhouse Rail, with that crucial stop in central Bradford.
“Both projects are vital to improving connections between the great cities of the North and Midlands.
“We’re told they are coming soon, but the watered-down versions that are rumoured are not acceptable.”
While some believe transport to have been the missing element from Mr Sunak’s Budget, one area of policy on which there was great detail was the reorganised system of alcohol duty.
Mr Sunak, a teetotaller more partial to a can of Coke than a flute of Moet, promised to cut tax on bubbly as part of a wider shake-up of alcohol duties.
The Treasury said it will cut the number of main duty rates from 15 to six as part of the sweeping changes, which will come into force from February 2023.
The Chancellor said changes to duties will see taxes increase on some higher strength drinks, such as some red wine and “white ciders”.
However, consumers of some lower strength products, such as rose, fruit ciders, liqueurs, and lower strength beers and wines, “will pay less”, he said.
“Over the last decade, consumption of sparkling wines like Prosecco has doubled. English sparkling wine alone has increased almost tenfold,” Mr Sunak told the Commons.
“It’s clear they are no longer the preserve of wealthy elites.”
To mark the historic changes, the Chancellor – who described the old system as “outdated, complex and full of historical anomalies” – paid a visit to a brewery in south London yesterday afternoon alongside Prime Minister Boris Johnson.