HomeBusinessIntegrated Rail Plan - reactions are almost all negative

Integrated Rail Plan – reactions are almost all negative

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One day after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps addressed the House of Commons to explain his Integrated Rail Plan (IRP), quite a number of reactions have reached the Rail Insider newsroom, most of them negative.

OPPOSITION VIEW

Jim McMahon MP,
Shadow Transport Secretary.

On the day, Shadow Transport Secretary Jim McMahon’s first comment was: “I am frankly staggered by how this statement started, with the Secretary of State saying he was ‘proud’ to present it to the House — proud of what? Is he proud of the betrayal of trust, the betrayal of promises and the betrayal of the investment that the north of England and the midlands deserve?

“We have all seen the reports over the weekend, each one setting out the betrayal being put forward today. There is no amount of gloss or spin that can be put on it. The Secretary of State promised HS2 to Leeds. He promised Northern Powerhouse Rail. He promised that the north would not be forgotten, but he has not just forgotten us; he has completely sold us out.”

He continued: “Let us be clear: the scaling back of Northern Powerhouse Rail, coupled with the scrapping of the eastern leg of HS2, is a massive blow for our regions. The schemes would have created 150,000 new jobs, connecting 13 million people in our major towns and cities in our industrial heartlands. The then-Chancellor George Osborne first announced plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail in 2014. Since then, the Conservatives, including the Prime Minister and the Transport Secretary, have recommitted and re-promised 60 times.

“This is a once-in-a-generation chance to transform opportunity across the whole country, to rebalance the economy and make it work for working people, but that opportunity now looks set to be lost.”

He then concluded: “The Prime Minister was elected on a promise to level the playing field and make things better for households across the country. We were promised a northern powerhouse. We were promised a midlands engine.

“We were promised that we would be levelled up, but what we have been given today is the great train robbery — robbing the north of its chance to realise its full potential, robbing the next generation of the hope and opportunity they are due and robbing 15 million people across the north of the investment they have been denied for 11 years under this rotten government.”

NEGATIVE REACTION

Although opposition to the plan from Her Majesty’s Opposition was to be expected, it did set the tone for a number of comments. 

In general, there are two streams of objection.  One is the “we were promised – those promises have been broken – we were lied to” approach, the other is “it’s bad for business, bad for the economy, bad for the Midlands/North/UK”.  Both agree that it is bad for the much-vaunted ‘levelling up’ agenda as it doesn’t seem to level much at all.

Jim Steer, Greengauge 21.

Greengauge 21, the not-for-profit transport think tank, sent a reaction that was five pages long, complete with a map!  It was certainly very detailed, but was nonetheless critical.  “The IRP is the kind of ‘integrated plan’ that risks giving planning a bad name,” it concludes.

Jim Steer, director at Greengauge 21, added: “The four projects – HS2 in its entirety, Northern Powerhouse Rail, Transpennine Route Upgrade and Midlands Rail Engine – devised over the ten year period 2008-2017, are now judged by government to be unaffordable. Parts of each of them are now on the chopping room floor. The IRP comprises what is left.

“The Integrated Rail Plan is a bolt-together job, with some lack of definition around the component pieces, and some worrying gaps.”

Steve Rotheram,
Liverpool City Region Mayor.

Steve Rotheram, Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, was a little briefer – six paragraphs rather than five pages – but he was not happy.

“The Integrated Rail Plan was a once in a generation opportunity to revolutionise our country’s rail network,” he said. “Properly delivered, it had the potential to be as transformative for rail travel as Stephenson’s Rocket. Instead, they have proposed a service that could have been promoted by Gladstone in the Victorian era.

“What we have seen is a government pretending to deliver that transformation but doing it on the cheap. Communities across the North have been held back for decades, forced to accept sticking plaster solutions and grossly underfunded by government. Today’s announcement is a continuation of that.

“The Prime Minister and Chancellor are both on record talking about the vital importance of NPR to the North’s prospects. What does it say to 15 million people across the North when they have chosen not to deliver it?”

Cllr Louise Gittins, TfN.

Cllr Louise Gittins, interim chair of Transport for the North, added: “Today’s announcement is woefully inadequate. After decades of underfunding, the rail network in the North is not fit for purpose. It is largely twin-track Victorian infrastructure trying to cope with the demands of a 21st Century economy.

“Leaders from across the North and from across the party political divide came together to ask for a network that would upgrade the North for this century and in line with the rest of the country. Our statutory advice asked for an over-£40 billion network but the government has decided to provide even less than half of that.

“The leaders of the North, jointly with government, have worked hard to come up with an evidence-led plan to help reverse the chasm of under investment over the last four decades to give passengers in the North a railway network fit for today and for generations to come. That doesn’t mean a bit here and a bit there of minor upgrades to the existing network – iIt means transformational change for the whole rail network. That means building HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail in full. That means good east-west connections, improved reliability and a better customer experience to bring about modal shift to meet our decarbonisation strategy.

“Whilst we have been working on our upgrade plans, we have watched as billions have been poured into HS2 building work from London to Birmingham. We have watched as billions have been poured into Crossrail being dug out and built across the capital. It is time for the North to have its fair share. It’s time for the North to have a proper railway network to allow our towns and cities, our businesses, and our people to thrive and grow for generations to come. It’s time for real evidence of levelling up.

“If we truly want to level up the country, we don’t need words and promises. We need commitment. We need investment. We need government to make good its pledge to the North and to deliver funding so we can deliver value back into UK PLC.”

INDUSTRY VIEW

Railway contractors and consultants were a bit more measured in their tone, no doubt looking at the opportunities that even the curtailed programme presents – £96 billion is not to be sniffed at even if it isn’t all new money.  But they weren’t completely happy either.

Richard Hoare, Arcadis.

Richard Hoare, UK managing director for rail at Arcadis, said: “Government finances and passenger numbers have come under huge strain post-COVID, so any package of investment in the rail network should be welcome. With nearly £100 billion now confirmed, there is a strong foundation for growth, which will go some way towards levelling up, transforming connectivity and passenger choice across the North and Midlands, and bringing positive opportunities for skills, regeneration and jobs.

“The scale of the task is huge. However, until the solution to get High Speed trains to Leeds is in place, the plan isn’t as fully integrated as hoped, and so naturally many will be disappointed. The need to decarbonise and update an aging, under invested network inevitably means that some very difficult choices needed to be made. The strategic decision to prioritise connectivity within the region while investing in the High-Speed network will give a strong chance of delivering improved services for the towns and cities that can most benefit and have been historically underfunded. We’ll need to work together, across the sector, to focus on the positives and realise these benefits for stakeholders who may be disappointed by the plan set out today.”

“As ever, the challenge will be delivery.  Many components in the plan, including the Midlands Mainline electrification, have been proposed before and cancelled. Even though HS2 has been scaled back, the government must ensure that the commitments outlined today are realised – whatever the challenges that are faced in years to come.”

Andy Bell, Thales.

Andy Bell, vice president of ground transportation systems at signalling and telecommunications contractor Thales, commented: “Pleased to see the long-awaited Integrated Rail Plan today; disappointed that the top of the Eastern Leg of HS2 is not happening, but positive to see the investment that is planned in upgrading the Transpennine Route, West Yorkshire tram and the other much needed initiatives.

“This is a great opportunity to bring world leading technologies to the region and create a passenger experience we can all be proud of. 

“Let’s now work together as an industry to ensure the investment delivers the desperately needed improved connectivity in the North and Midlands – supporting a greener and fairer society; and build confidence by delivering these enhancements within the budget available.”

Andy Bagnall, RDG.

Andy Bagnall, director general of the Rail Delivery Group, representing independent train operators, said: “Rail has a vital role to play in driving the new economy and the fair, clean recovery the country wants to see.

“While millions of people will benefit from this major investment in boosting connectivity between major cities in the North of England and the Midlands, leaving out key pieces of the jigsaw will inevitably hold back the ability for the railways to power the levelling up agenda and the drive to net zero.”

Dan Rogers, Turner & Townsend.

Dan Rogers, director at Turner & Townsend, said that an understanding of local industry skills and capacity, together with proper oversight of the newly announced projects, would be critical to the success of the Integrated Rail Plan.

“This is not the plan that some expected or hoped for and there will be justified disappointment, particularly in terms of much needed East to West connectivity in the North, with longstanding and high-profile projects being pushed aside.”

“However, there are silver linings too.  This is a £96 billion plan for rail, which, in following advice from the National Infrastructure Commission, moves away from the piecemeal planning of the past. For the first time we have a coordinated approach to investment, that follows the announcement earlier this year on the formation of Great British Rail.

“The plan needs supporting with a governance model that allows projects to be formed and delivered without the political interference that too often delays investment and impacts getting projects set up for success. Benefits need to be delivered quickly if the plan is to realign and transition the UK to a low carbon economy.

“The government now needs to convince the communities of the North and Midlands that it is the right plan. Exceptional delivery requires investment in skills, technology, project leadership and supply chain resilience so that these schemes offer an opportunity to build long-term expertise in rail, rather than competing for capacity.”

Matthew Fell, CBI.

Matthew Fell, chief policy director of the CBI, said: “High quality infrastructure is fundamental to rising living standards and levelling up the country.

“The Integrated Rail Plan is a significant investment that will go some way towards modernising our ageing rail networks and can be delivered at pace.

“But businesses across the Midlands and Northern England will be justifiably disappointed to see the goalposts have moved at the eleventh hour, and concerned that some of the areas most sorely in need of development will lose out as a result of the scaled back plans.”

There will be more to come no doubt…

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