Sheffield MPs urge Grant Shapps not to scrap city's rail link with Manchester Airport

Scrapping the direct rail link between Sheffield and the North's biggest airport would undermine the Government's levelling-up agenda for cities in the region, according to a group of Labour MPs.

Sheffield MPs Paul Blomfield, Clive Betts, Olivia Blake, Gill Furniss and Louise Haigh have urged Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to retain the direct link between their city and Manchester Airport as part of his consultation on improving rail links in northern England.

The consultation, which ends in March 10, sees passengers presented with three different options for how the rail network in and around Manchester can be reconfigured from May 2022 to improve overall reliability.

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Read more: Northern leaders drop plans for new dual carriageway across the Pennines to tackle 'dire' journeys between Sheffield and ManchesterBefore the pandemic, during which passengers numbers have plummeted, congestion around Manchester was having a major knock-on impact on the rest of the North and Yorkshire.

Manchester Airport is the biggest in the North of England. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

The three options affect different routes and which routes have direct services to Manchester Oxford Road and Piccadilly stations, and Manchester Airport.

And in two of the scenarios, the Cleethorpes/Nottingham service via Sheffield to Liverpool is increased to a standard two trains per hour, meaning there is no longer a through service from Sheffield to Manchester Airport.

The Sheffield MPs argue that “any review of Manchester services should not be undertaken in isolation but must consider the impact on the wider northern region.”

And their letter says “the loss of a direct rail connection will drive more road traffic onto already congested trans-Pennine routes.”

The lack of east-west connections in northern England has long been considered a major problem for the region's economy, with too much reliance on the M62 motorway. The A628 between Sheffield and Manchester shuts dozens of times a year due to bad weather.

The letter adds that “Sheffield needs international connectivity to attract inward investment and enable business to improve productivity."

It said: "The long-established direct rail link is a vital part of that and strongly supported by local business. Removing it would undermine the Government’s 'levelling-up' agenda for cities in the North."

The consultation sets out three options on how it could simplify, separate, space or reduce services to minimise delays and congestion, and then asks people to set out their responses.

It brings together the Department for Transport, Transport for the North, Network Rail, and the train operators Northern and TransPennine Express (TPE).

While the public are being asked to stay at home, the rail industry is using this opportunity to plan improvements around Manchester ready for when passengers return in much greater numbers.

When it was launched, Chris Heaton-Harris, Rail Minister, said: "We are putting the power to improve Manchester’s rail network in the hands of those that use it daily.

"I urge passengers to use this opportunity to comment on the future of your railway.

"Improving punctuality and reliability is one of my key priorities. As we continue to build back better from the pandemic, these proposals will ensure that the rail network is more dependable for those who use it every day."