Northern leaders seek meeting with Grant Shapps over 'unacceptable' Integrated Rail Plan

Northern leaders are seeking a meeting with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps "at the earliest possible opportunity" to discuss potential changes to the "unacceptable" Integrated Rail Plan.

Transport for the North has today published an open letter sent to Mr Shapps following a TfN meeting last week in which politicians and business leaders sitting on the organisation's board resolved to request talks with the Department for Transport on potentially finding new funding models for the full Northern Powerhouse Rail route rather than the abridged version set out in the IRP.

It had been hoped the full route between Liverpool and Hull would include a new high-speed line between Manchester and Leeds via Bradford but instead the Government has announced a shorter route running between Warrington and Marsden on the outskirts of Yorkshire and has made no commitment to improvements running to Hull.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The letter from TfN interim chair Councillor Louise Gittins says: "I am writing on behalf of the Transport for the North Board to express our collective disappointment and dismay at the inadequacy of the Integrated Rail Plan; the plan as proposed is unacceptable to the North.

Left to right Mayor West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin, Mayor of North of Tyne Jamie Driscoll, Acting Chair Councillor Louise Gittins Cheshire West and Chester, Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham, Mayor of Liverpool City Region Steve Rotheram and Mayor of South Yorkshire Dan Jarvis, outside Leeds Railway Station, following a meeting of the Transport for the North Board at the Queens Hotel in Leeds.

"The TfN Board meeting on Wednesday noted that the proposals breach the commitments Government had previously made on Northern Powerhouse Rail, and differ from the Board’s preferred option, as set out in statutory advice to the Department for Transport.

"However, there was also unanimous support from Board members to work with the Government to explore ways in which the long-term ambition underpinning its preferred Northern Powerhouse Rail network might be realised. Given the need to move forward quickly, the board requests you meet with myself and a delegation from the Board as soon as possible.

"The context for the Board’s disappointment lies in the fact that we have waited nearly a year for the IRP to be published, and it is more than 21 months since the government accepted Douglas Oakervee’s recommendation that both NPR and HS2 should be built in full.

"The rapid post-pandemic return of passengers and freight to the North’s rail network – both of which have been stronger than the national average – demonstrates the critical role that rail plays in supporting our economy and enabling growth."

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

The letter highlights that the current IRP proposals "would present significant operational performance risks with intercity, regional, local, and freight services competing for capacity on critical sections of shared infrastructure across the North", while disruption from upgrading lines "is likely to be more significant than for the construction of new lines".

Coun Gittins said of the letter: “The North has spoken with one voice to make it clear that the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan in its current form is not acceptable. That is why our statutory advice to Government is clear that they must think again. Instead of this top-down centralised approach they need to reach out and work with local communities, and businesses.

“Despite our deep concerns that the IRP is woefully inadequate, the TfN Board unanimously agreed that it wishes to explore with Government funding options for the delivery of the preferred NPR: options could include local contributions, including through harnessing local economic benefits.

“We still believe that there is a way forward that will enable them to collaboratively move at pace to prioritise and sequence investment in a way that delivers the early foundations of a modernised rail system for the region. Instead of what looks like years of rail delays to build a network that by the time its finished will not be fit for purpose.

“TfN Board Members remain committed to the long-term ambition for improving connectivity across the North and with the Midlands. We remain firm in our collective belief that the Board’s preferred approach to HS2 and NPR best reflects the unique opportunity to unleash the potential of the North, addresses the imbalance in the quality and extent of the rail infrastructure across the UK, and achieves real, positive, and lasting change for the region."

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “Our Integrated Rail Plan outlines a historic £96bn investment in our railways, delivering upgrades faster and at better value to the taxpayer than any other plan which came before it.

“We welcome discussions with TfN and are happy to consider proposals on its delivery, provided solutions are realistic and costed.”

Read more:

Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today. Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you'll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers. Click here to subscribe.