The Government has been accused of a “betrayal of trust” as it set out its long-awaited revised plans for Northern England and the Midlands.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the £96 billion Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) would slash journey times across the region with 110 miles of new high-speed line.
But Labour said the package unveiled in the House of Commons abandoned previous assurances given on the extension of HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR).
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Shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said it was “the betrayal of trust, the betrayal of promises and the betrayal of investment the north of England and the Midlands deserve”.
He told MPs: “There is no amount of gloss, no amount of spin that can be put on this.
“He promised HS2 to Leeds, he promised Northern Powerhouse Rail, he promised that the North would not be forgotten. But he hasn’t just forgotten us, he has completely sold us out.”
The key points of the IRP are:
- The extension of HS2 from the East Midlands to Leeds has been scrapped. HS2 trains will instead run on existing lines.
- NPR between Leeds and Manchester will be a combination of new track and enhancements to existing infrastructure.
- Plans to fully electrify the Midland Main Line and the Transpennine route, and upgrade the East Coast Main Line.
The decision to cut back HS2 will make journeys between Leeds and London 32 minutes longer than previously planned.
Mr Shapps said: “Our plans go above and beyond the initial ambitions of HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail by delivering benefits for communities no matter their size, right across the North and Midlands, up to 10 to 15 years earlier.”
He said under the original plans HS2 would not have reached the North and Midlands until early the 2040s, but the new programme would ensure travellers saw the benefits of improved links “much, much sooner”.
“It is an ambitious and unparalleled programme that not only overhauls the inter-city links between the North and Midlands but also speeds up the benefits for local areas and serves destinations people most want to reach,” he said.
“This plan will bring the North and the Midlands closer together, it will fire up economies to rival London and the South East, it will rebalance our economic geography, it will spread opportunity, it will level up the country.
“It will bring benefits at least a decade or more earlier.”
However, the plan was strongly criticised by the Conservative chairman of the Commons Transport Committee Huw Merriman who accused Boris Johnson of going back on past promises.
“The Prime Minister promised that HS2 and Northern Powerhouse rail was not an either/or option and those in Leeds and Bradford may be forgiven for viewing it today as neither,” he said.
“This is the danger in selling perpetual sunlight and leaving the others to explain the arrival of moonlight.”
Robbie Moore, the Tory MP for Keighley, said he was “deeply disappointed” by the plan which had “completely short-changed” his constituents.
“We are one of the most socially deprived parts of the UK and we must get better transport connectivity,” he said.
“I still want to see Northern Powerhouse Rail delivered with a main stop in Bradford, so that we can unlock our economic opportunities.”
Sir Keir Starmer said the scrapping of part of the HS2 extension shows that “levelling up” is “just a slogan”.
During a visit to a station in Bradford, the Labour leader said: “You don’t have to drill down very long into that £96 billion sum to realise a good deal of that is money already spent on the bit of the line that comes up to the Midlands, so that argument doesn’t hold water.
“As for the improved speed of times, of course, that’s a good thing, but if you don’t have a new line you don’t sort out capacity and that’s the biggest problem we’ve got across the North.
“So that is, I’m afraid, just the tactics of trying to ensure that focus isn’t on what’s really happened here, which is the breaking of two very, very important pledges.
“If you can’t level up in Bradford then the whole levelling-up agenda is seen for what it really is, and that is just a slogan.”Enjoy more of The Railway Magazine reading every month. Click here to subscribe.