Trans-Pennine Railway Debate

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Department: Department for Transport

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Andrew Stephenson Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Andrew Stephenson)
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I congratulate the hon. Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) on securing this important debate. I am sure we all agree that investing in rail across the north of England and improving connectivity between all communities is vital.

I reiterate the Government’s commitment to levelling up the north of England as we build back better from the pandemic, delivering real, tangible improvements for people across the region. That is one of the Government’s top priorities. The Government are committed to enabling the north to reap the benefits of record levels of investment in our rail services. The trans-Pennine route upgrade and Northern Powerhouse Rail are just two of many infrastructure projects that will better connect communities across the north of England. The integrated rail plan will soon outline exactly how these major rail projects, alongside HS2 phase 2b and other transformational projects, will work together to deliver the reliable train services that passengers need and deserve.

However, we are not waiting for the integrated rail plan to get on with investing in, and delivering significant improvements to, transport across the north of England. Building on our £29 billion investment in northern transport since 2010, we recently announced £15 million for two new stations outside Leeds, at White Rose and Thorpe Park, providing a springboard for regeneration, housing growth and economic activity and jobs in the surrounding area. We announced a further £317 million of funding for the trans-Pennine route upgrade, which I will talk more about shortly, and more than £1.2 billion from the transforming cities fund to improve connectivity across the north. In addition, we are investing £137 million in the Hope Valley line to improve capacity and connectivity between Manchester and Sheffield, and £34 million has been pledged to rapidly progress plans to reopen the Northumberland line, which closed to passengers in 1964 as part of the Beeching cuts.

Transforming railways in the north will significantly impact national infrastructure by releasing capacity, improving journey times and reducing our carbon footprint. The trans-Pennine route upgrade is a multi-billion pound programme and is expected to be the largest investment in our existing rail network over the next five years. It aims to tackle the problems that rail passengers experience today by delivering a step change in the performance and reliability of this key east-west rail artery, enhancing journeys for passengers and providing opportunities for the growing population up until the 2040s. Funding of £589 million was announced in July 2020, enabling design and development work to continue and delivering extensive reliability, capacity and journey time improvements between Manchester and York via Huddersfield and Leeds.

An extra £317 million investment into the programme was announced in May. The bulk of this funding will commence early works, including electrification and upgrades between York and Church Fenton, one of the busiest stretches of track in the north of England, as part of delivering a more reliable and resilient railway for passengers. This funding, which has already been committed, will see the programme progress rapidly into the next phase, with early benefits delivered for passengers as early as 2025. The Department continues to work through the design and development phases of the programme. A further update to the business case, to make recommendations for the next stage of works, is due in the coming months.

I turn to the Northern Powerhouse Rail programme, otherwise known as HS3, and to the recent media reports cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) and the hon. Member for Bradford South, which inaccurately speculated about the Government’s commitment to NPR and that money has been reappropriated from the Northern Powerhouse Rail programme to finance HS2. I am pleased to say that those claims are categorically untrue. The Government remain absolutely committed to the Northern Powerhouse Rail programme, which represents a further opportunity to invest in northern communities, to level up the economy, and most importantly, to improve connectivity and reliability between key northern hubs, allowing the north to reach its full strategic and economic potential both at home and abroad.

The integrated rail plan will outline the investment blueprint and the delivery profile for a host of major rail projects in the midlands and the north over subsequent decades, including the NPR programme, the trans-Pennine route upgrade and HS2 phase 2b. Once it has been published, the Department for Transport will work closely with Transport for the North to finalise a strategic outline case for the NPR programme that is consistent with the policy and funding framework established by the integrated rail plan, which will allow more rapid alignment around single-route options for NPR and an accelerated delivery timetable that will allow us to get spades in the ground and realise benefits for communities across the north of England sooner than was previously seen as possible.

As for the content of the integrated rail plan and the recommended way forward for the NPR programme, final decisions are yet to be made and Ministers continue to look very closely at the evidence, including that provided by Transport for the North and leaders from the north and midlands. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have met northern leaders—including those from Leeds, Bradford and Manchester—and leaders from the midlands several times this year to discuss their priorities for investment in rail infrastructure and in the integrated rail plan.

I myself have met Councillor Susan Hinchcliffe on three occasions this year and I know that my officials have had much engagement with her officers in both Bradford Council and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority. I am grateful for their ongoing constructive engagement. We have had productive discussions on understanding the evidence base that is being presented.

That applies to all Northern Powerhouse Rail corridors, including Bradford and the Manchester-to-Leeds NPR corridor. The Government recognise the importance of improving rail connectivity to Bradford—for the local community, for passengers and for the regeneration opportunities that it could bring.

Robbie Moore Portrait Robbie Moore (Keighley) (Con)
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On that point, I really emphasise my support for having a station stop in Bradford, because of the absolute benefits it would have for my constituency of Keighley; as the MP for a neighbouring constituency, the Minister will be well aware of those. However, this process is not just about things such as the NPR; it is also about the Skipton-to-Colne railway line, which he will also be very familiar with, and opening up the links between the east and west.

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.