A thorough reassessment of the UK government’s Integrated Rail Plan is essential to ensure this once-in-a-generation investment in rail is not a missed opportunity to address regional imbalances, MPs on the all-party parliamentary Transport Select Committee have urged.
The Integrated Rail Plan for the north and Midlands report says that alternative options, which could transform stations and city centres in key northern cities, have not been properly tested. Leaving out key elements of analysis of the wider economic impacts of the different options set out for Northern Powerhouse Rail means that value for money and economic return cannot be compared and validated.
The committee called for a full analysis of the wider economic impacts, and a full benefit-cost ratio, for the different Northern Powerhouse Rail options. If the results demonstrate that other options offer better value and outcomes for the taxpayer, economy and the communities directly impacted, MPs say government ‘must grasp the nettle’ and make the necessary changes.
The revised eastern leg of HS2 Phase 2b will see the Birmingham to Leeds route terminate at East Midlands Parkway. HS2 Limited was unable to tell the committee how much the revised leg would cost. As a result, the committee calls on the Department for Transport to publish an updated benefit-cost ratio for the entire HS2 project, including a direct comparison between the original and revised eastern leg of HS2 Phase 2b, by March 2023.
MPs say the original purpose of Northern Powerhouse Rail - to connect the ‘great cities of the north to build a northern powerhouse’ – is at risk. Some towns and cities have already been disappointed by decisions, says the report, which looks at the implications for Leeds and Bradford in particular. Work is urgently needed to demonstrate the government’s commitment to high-speed connections to Leeds. MPs also ask government to commit to supporting the redevelopment of the city’s station by 2035.
The committee is concerned that the case for the IRP is based on a best-case scenario which ‘may not come to pass.’ The promised journey times may not be feasible and the issue of how to increase track capacity, including for local services and freight, has been overlooked, say MPs.
Huw Merriman, chair of the Transport Select Committee, said: “We welcome the scale of the government’s promised spending on rail. At £96bn the government has billed it ‘the largest single rail investment ever made by a UK government.’ The committee agrees it has the potential to transform rail travel for future generations.
“However, many towns and cities are already disappointed by the proposals which have been set out. The prime minister promised that he would, with Northern Powerhouse Rail, do for the north what he did for Londoners with Crossrail. Instead, much of the track will be an upgrade of existing line. The business case of HS2 was based on it going east to Leeds. Now, it stops in the east Midlands without any understanding of how much money is saved.
“Those we spoke to from the cities of Leeds and Bradford, in particular, do not recognise that the finalised plans meet either the promises they believe were made or the prime minister’s stated aims.
“For these cities, and the taxpayer as a whole, the government must demonstrate the rationale for its decisions. An investment of this substantial sum must be based on the best evidence and the best value for money. It must bring the greatest overall benefit to rail services, the economy, environment and communities across the north and Midlands.
“We ask government to revisit the evidence base for the decisions they have reached. In recommending this reassessment, we are mindful of a previous Transport Committee report which challenged the government on its ability to deliver major infrastructure projects. Ministers must be cautious but transparent about the benefits that can be delivered by the Integrated Rail Plan. It is ambitious and exciting but public and stakeholders, especially in the north and Midlands, must be able to see that the benefits of the current proposals outweigh the other options which have been put forward.”
RIA north chair Justin Moss said: “RIA north welcomes the Transport Select Committee’s call to revisit the Integrated Rail Plan, to further consider the northern cities that were excluded from the plans and the benefits of a connected north to the future economy. And we are happy to work with the Transport Select Committee to better understand how the enhanced connectivity related to the IRP increases investment, supports skills, and reduces carbon.
“However, we cannot afford this to be an excuse to delay the plans already committed in the IRP. Furthermore, alongside the IRP, we continue to call for the HS2 eastern leg and Northern Powerhouse Rail schemes be reinstated in full, as only by doing so will the full benefits of both schemes be realised, benefiting not just the north but the whole of the UK and its towns, cities and communities.”