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MPs call for ‘reassessment’ of £96bn plan for northern rail infrastructure

The government’s £96bn Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) needs “a thorough reassessment” to ensure that it addresses regional imbalances in the UK, the Transport Committee has said.

The IRP is designed to deliver and sequence major rail investment in the North and Midlands that will see various upgrades, including electrification of some key lines.

However, a report from the Transport Committee has found that the plan has not properly tested alternative options for transforming stations and city centres in key Northern cities.

It accuses the Department for Transport of leaving out key elements of analysis of the wider economic impacts of the different options which means that value for money and economic return cannot be properly considered.

The Committee wants a full analysis of the wider economic impacts and a 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 on the Committee urge the government to make the necessary changes.

The revised Eastern leg of HS2 Phase 2b will see the Birmingham to Leeds route terminate at East Midlands Parkway, although HS2 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.

The report claims that the original purpose of Northern Powerhouse Rail – to connect the “great cities of the North to build a northern powerhouse” – is at risk, with some towns and cities already disappointed by some of the decisions made thus far.

Work is “urgently needed” to demonstrate the government’s commitment to high-speed connections to Leeds, the report added. MPs also called on the government to commit to supporting the redevelopment of the city’s station by 2035.

The Committee said it was concerned that the case for the IRP is based on a best-case scenario which “may not come to pass”.

Huw Merriman MP, chair of the Committee said: “We welcome the scale of the government’s promised spending on rail. At £96bn, the government has billed it as “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.

“We ask government to revisit the evidence base for the decisions they have reached. 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.”

The chair of the Railway Industry Association (RIA), 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.”

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