Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

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Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton) (Con)
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I thank the hon. Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) for leading this important debate. She set the scene very well. I, too, was concerned when I read newspaper reports about the potential downgrade—that is, an upgrade of the trans-Pennine route as it exists rather than a new route. The hon. Lady quoted part of the newspaper interview with the Prime Minister; he also said that there is definitely a commitment to Northern Powerhouse Rail and a huge investment in railways in the north, so I was more reassured.

It is quite understandable that the Treasury should look carefully at where we spend taxpayers’ money. On the face of it, why do we need two railways running across the Pennines? It is a fair question to ask. Having spoken to the Chancellor before he took that role, I know he was always committed to east-west rail links across the north. I do not think for a minute that Northern Powerhouse Rail is under threat. The Minister will no doubt reflect on that when he makes his comments.

The key is the agglomeration effect, as economists call it. It is a critical mass, which is what we need. It brings 10 million people together, in exactly the way that London has 10 million people together who are highly connected. It shows the economic opportunity based on that. As the hon. Lady set out, cities such as Bradford would be left behind without it. Bradford cannot be connected into the rest of the north without Northern Powerhouse Rail.

Key to it are all those young IT-savvy people connected so easily to places such as Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Hull, York and many others. That makes perfect sense and it is vital we get that agglomeration effect. I know Bradford quite well, and its city centre is in desperate need of investment. A shiny brand new station in the middle of Bradford would attract lots of other private sector investment, which is critical. We have seen the investment at King’s Cross and St Pancras and all the investment that came off the back of that. That is what would happen to Bradford. That is critical investment, and not just for Bradford—there are similar arguments for Hull, Liverpool, York, Manchester, Newcastle and Leeds. This is an important and welcome debate, and I am interested to hear what the Minister has to say from his perspective. I know he is a massive champion of investment in rail in the north.

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Andrew Stephenson Portrait Andrew Stephenson
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Wonderful—I welcome the contribution from my constituency neighbour, who represents Keighley. I am happy to say that I completely agree with him about the importance of Bradford, not only to the whole north of England but as an integral part of our rail network. I will not comment on the Skipton-to-Colne line; I have a vested interest, because it goes through my constituency. I will leave that one there, but he makes a very strong case for the reopening of that railway line.

We would all agree that Bradford is a vibrant city with plenty to contribute to the wider development of the north. Combining the local economies of Manchester and Leeds, it has an important role to play in creating an economic powerhouse to rival anywhere else in the country.

There remain a range of options that are under robust evaluation as part of NPR. That is why, when the Prime Minister visited west Yorkshire earlier this week, as the hon. Member for Bradford South mentioned, he did not talk about specifics. But he did say, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton mentioned,

“There is definitely a commitment to Northern Powerhouse Rail, and a huge investment in railways in the North.”

That speaks very clearly to the Government’s commitment.

Ensuring that investment in Northern Powerhouse Rail benefits the widest possible range of places is the responsibility of Ministers; we take it very seriously, which will be reflected in our decision making. As I have mentioned previously, the integrated rail plan will set out how major projects across the north and the midlands will be sequenced and delivered, and it is the Government’s ambition that the benefits of Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 phase 2b are delivered to communities and passengers in the north more quickly.

I am aware that hon. Members and local leaders from across the midlands and the north are eagerly awaiting the publication of the integrated rail plan. Let me assure my hon. Friends that we are making good progress and intend to publish it soon.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
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I, too, am eagerly awaiting the integrated railway plan. The Minister said it will be published “soon”, but could he be more specific?

Andrew Stephenson Portrait Andrew Stephenson
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As somebody who served in the Government Whips’ Office for two years, I think I will stick with the language of “soon”. However, it is definitely our commitment to have the integrated rail plan published.

The one thing I would say, though, from having had conversations with many leaders across the north of England, is that many of them have said that they would rather we get the right answers and the right solutions rather than rushing things. This plan will set an investment framework for decades, so we have to get it right— and if that requires a little more to-ing and fro-ing and a little more negotiation, I think that is a price worth paying. Nevertheless, we are very keen make the announcement soon.

As I say, it is important that we continue the negotiations and carry on reflecting on all the evidence. We must also consider what the National Infrastructure Commission said in the “Rail Needs assessment for the Midlands and the North”, the advice from Transport for the North, the views of northern and midlands leaders and the Government’s own analysis before making any final decisions.

Growing economies and levelling up the north and the midlands are at the heart of what we are trying to achieve. That is why I am also happy to confirm that Ministers from both the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Treasury have been closely involved in drawing up the integrated rail plan. This process is not just about building railways but about taking a holistic view of how to capitalise on our investment, and how to help boost regional economies.

I hope that I have convinced the hon. Member for Bradford South and my hon. Friends the Members for Thirsk and Malton and for Keighley (Robbie Moore) of the Government’s commitment to both Northern Powerhouse Rail and the trans-Pennine route upgrade, and to delivering the benefits of these transformational rail investments to passengers and communities in the north more quickly. Decisions on these schemes will be set out in the integrated rail plan, which we intend to publish soon, but in the meantime we are already getting on with levelling up the country and delivering investment and improvements to transport across the north of England.

Question put and agreed to.