Announced on Thursday, the Government’s Integrated Rail Review offers very little for Liverpool as new figures reveal the north lags London by £86bn in terms of transport investment. Tony McDonough reports
A new Government strategy for rail services across the north of England has been described as “woefully inadequate” and a betrayal of previous promises.
Unveiled on Thursday, the Integrated Rail Review is pledging £96bn for new rail upgrades and improvements across the north but almost half of that cash is for schemes that had already been announced.
The announcement all but kills off the Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) project, a £40bn plan to build a high-speed rail link from Liverpool and Manchester and through to Leeds, Newcastle and Hull.
A new high-speed line from Warrington to Manchester may improve journey times on some services between Liverpool and Manchester, but only marginally so. Journey times from Manchester to Leeds will be cut from 55 minutes to 33 minutes.
Liverpool Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram has also been told that his plans for a new station in Liverpool, to accommodate high speed rail links, would have to be “locally funded”. Without Government cash the project is pretty much a non-starter.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps also confirmed that the eastern leg of the £100bn HS2 rail network, linking London with the north, was to be scrapped. However, a high speed link to Manchester would still go ahead.
Although much of the discussion centres around journey times the main benefit of high speed rail for the north would be the creation of much-needed capacity, not just for passenger trains but also for freight. The Port of Liverpool has expended rapidly over the past five years and better transport links are needed for the port to reach its full potential.
Mr Rotheram said the the Government had missed a “once in a generation opportunity to revolutionise our country’s rail network”. But he said what we had was a Government “pretending to deliver that transformation but doing it on the cheap”.
He added: “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.
“Earlier this year, I warned that the Government was heading towards this path – that they would try to force us to accept a cheap and nasty option that would be detrimental, not only to our region, but to the wider north and UK as a whole.
“It won’t deliver the £16bn of economic benefit we were promised; it won’t free up freight capacity or take heavily-polluting HGVs off the road, and it won’t help connect our region with opportunities across the country. Instead, it looks set to cause us all of the pain of years long disruption with none of the benefits on the other side – and won’t be delivered any faster than existing plans.
“It’s not too late to fix this. My door is open if the Government is serious about levelling up the North and want to engage with us.”
The 2019 Conservative election manifesto said: “We will build Northern Powerhouse Rail between Leeds and Manchester and then focus on Liverpool, Tees Valley, Hull, Sheffield and Newcastle.”
However, those commitments are now significantly watered down. Cllr Louise Gittins, interim chair of Transport for the North, said: “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.
“That doesn’t mean a bit here and a bit there of minor upgrades to the existing network. It means transformational change for the whole rail network. That means building HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail in full.
“While 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.”
Her claims are backed up by new figures from think tank, IPPR North, which reveals that if the north had received the same transport investment as London over the last decade, it would have received £86bn more than it has.
Independent analysis of past transport spending published by IPPR North shows that between 2009/10-2019/20, the North received just £349 per person in transport spending. For context, the UK overall received £430 per person, and London received £864 per person.
Marcus Johns, research fellow at IPPR North, added: “The Integrated Rail Plan appears to be a levelling down of the Government’s commitment to the North. Not only does it break the Prime Minister’s own promises and his manifesto pledges, but it also breaks many years’ worth of plans and assurances to the north of England.
“The North is now reliant on creaking Victorian infrastructure that undermines its economy, its people’s quality of life and its ability to reduce emissions. A good transport network requires both strong strategic national rail links and high-quality local transport, the North shouldn’t have to take one or the other.”