Politics

England’s scaled-back rail plans are not a betrayal, says Grant Shapps | Rail transport


Promises to upgrade links for the north and Midlands have not been broken by the government in its scaled-back rail plan for the region, the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, has insisted, in the face of a storm of cross-party criticism from leaders in northern England.

The Integrated Rail Plan, published on Thursday, set out a scaling back of the Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) project and the axing of the planned east Midlands to Leeds high-speed line, with HS2 trains instead running on existing upgraded routes.

Conservative MPs were among furious critics in the Commons on Thursday, with Huw Merriman, who chairs the transport select committee, suggested Johnson was “selling perpetual sunlight and then leaving it to others to explain the arrival of moonlight”.

On Friday morning, the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, said the scaled-back plans “betrayed people in the north” and were a “second-class option”.

Responding to the criticism on Sky News, Shapps said: “This will have been the only time in history when massively improving everybody’s rail services would have been counted as a betrayal. It’s a strange approach.”

Asked on Sky News why promises he made on the NPR project and eastern leg of HS2 were not being fulfilled, Shapps appeared to suggest that both projects were going ahead.

“They are absolutely being fulfilled,” he said. “First of all, we are producing that around 30-minute journey from Manchester to Leeds, or to give you another example, Manchester to Liverpool in 35 minutes, so we’re giving that interconnectivity, that connection that you might have in the south, in the north.”

He added: “When it comes to HS2, we are going to deliver HS2 trains, [we are looking at] the best way to do that into Leeds.

“The plan for HS2 was conceived 15 years and more ago. What we want to do is make sure it actually integrates with these plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail which we are building. That is the line that goes across, including high speed rail, which will make those dramatic time differences.”

Shapps said £96bn was being pumped into the plan and insisted that the “eastern leg will be developed”.

He added: “The only disconnect are some of the complaints from, I have to say, largely Labour leaders, who are completely misleading people.”

He said if critics looked at the list of journey times within the plans, they and their residents would see that “they will be able to get around a lot faster from virtually every place to virtually every place”.

Challenged that “largely Labour leaders” are complaining, Shapps was told of criticism from Conservative MPs, including Merriman.

Shapps said some of those quoted were long-term opponents of HS2, and added they were being “partially quoted” and had shown support for some aspects of the plan.

Appearing on BBC Radio 5 live, Starmer said: “The government has ripped up those promises and betrayed people in the north. I was in Bradford yesterday and the anger is palpable.

“People feel very strongly that promises have been made to them and they have just been ripped up. The idea that ‘levelling up’ is anything more than a slogan has absolutely blown away by what happened yesterday.

“The whole point of HS2 was a high-speed line going up including to Leeds. The whole point of the promise of Northern Powerhouse Rail was a new line going from Manchester to Leeds.

“Trying to upgrade what you have got is a second-class option for the north.”

The HS2 high-speed rail network will run to Manchester, it was confirmed, but the eastern leg will end at an existing east Midlands station rather than going from Birmingham to Leeds. A further stretch will be built west and east of Manchester from Warrington to Marsden but the TransPennine route at the heart of the proposed NPR scheme will rely on upgrades and electrification rather than a new line.



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