Boris accused of breaking 'Levelling Up' pledge as rail plan unveiled

Boris accused of breaking 'Levelling Up' pledge as rail plan unveiled

November 18, 2021

Boris is accused of smashing manifesto pledge to ‘Level Up’ rail with HS2 and Northern Powerhouse links to Leeds set to be dropped when £96bn package is unveiled TODAY – but defiant PM claims lines would be ‘grindingly slow to build’

  • Rail investment package of £96 billion set to be announced by Boris Johnson
  • Prime Minister hails it the biggest transport investment programme in a century 
  • Revised plans focus on line upgrades to cut journey times in North and Midlands
  • Labour’s transport spokesman Jim McMahon describes plans as ‘laughable’ 

Boris Johnson is facing a Red Wall backlash today as he unveils a £96billion rail package – but downgrades some key plans.

The government is set to confirm the HS2 route to Leeds is being axed in favour of a Birmingham to East Midlands Parkway line. 

And the HS3 line linking Manchester and Leeds – known as Northern Powerhouse Rail – is expected to be ditched. 

The PM is said to be adamant that the changes will not break the ‘Levelling Up’ pledges in Tories’ 2019 manifesto.

Writing in the Yorkshire Post, he said the investments would still mean ‘faster journeys, to more places, more quickly’ for Yorkshire. 

He argued that high speed rail would be ‘grindingly slow to build’ and most of the benefits could be achieved more quickly. Deputy PM Dominic Raab insisted in a round of interviews this morning that the government needed to get ‘bang for its buck’.

But Mr Johnson is facing unrest from his own MPs in Red Wall seats that were seized at the last election, while Labour has gone on the attack. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has hailed the £96billion package as the biggest transport investment programme in a century

Deputy PM Dominic Raab insisted in a round of interviews this morning that the government needed to get ‘bang for its buck’

Britain’s Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is expected to confirm that the HS3 line linking Manchester and Leeds is being ditched

In his column, Mr Johnson wrote: ‘HS2 will come to Sheffield, meaning a trip to or from London will take just one hour 27 minutes – precisely the same as under the old HS2 plans.

‘We’ll look at how to get HS2 to Leeds too, with a new study on the best way to make it happen.

‘But high-speed rail is grindingly slow to build. Under the original blueprint, first drawn up more than a decade ago, Yorkshire would have not have seen the benefits of our investment until at least the 2040s. Levelling up can’t wait that long. And towns like Wakefield, Doncaster, Dewsbury and Huddersfield would have suffered as trains were taken off the existing main lines.’

The 2019 Tory manifesto said: ‘We will build Northern Powerhouse Rail between Leeds and Manchester.’ 

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps will make a Commons statement and publish the full Integrated Rail Plan later. 

The package is expected to see high-speed trains travel on slower track to Sheffield, meaning HS2 trains would reach Yorkshire but the high-speed line itself would not. 

Less than half of the total cost declared today – £40billion – will be new funding because the package includes most of the cost of HS2 from London to Crewe – money already announced.

That is much less than would have been spent had the Government gone ahead with its original plans.

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves, who is also the MP for Leeds West, said it seemed promises made in four successive Conservative manifestoes to bring HS2 to Leeds and Yorkshire were being abandoned.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘What we are getting is tinkering around the edges rather than the proper transformation of transport in the north of England.

‘Already Yorkshire has the lowest level of capital investment in transport than anywhere in the country.

‘Capital investment in transport in the north of England is half the level that you see in London and the south east.

‘We have been badly done by for many years now.’

Ms Reeves added: ‘The government has announced Northern Powerhouse Rail 70 times now in the last few years and not a single spade in the ground.

‘The people of Yorkshire are becoming very cynical about government promises.’

Henri Murison of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership said: ‘We won’t be hoodwinked into believing we’re getting £96billion for a transport revolution in the North. 

‘Phase 1 of HS2 accounts for half of that and only goes as far as Birmingham. In addition, half the HS2 budget on the eastern leg has disappeared altogether.’

Mr Raab insisted the Government’s rail plans were ‘win-win’ and any changes would help deliver more value for money.

He declined to confirm the specifics but told BBC Breakfast: ‘The detail will be set out today but I think this is win-win.

‘It’s never been done before, £96 billion, there’s never been an infrastructure project or series of projects on this scale.

‘We’re delivering action to go with the words and the aspirations around us.’ 

The revised plans will focus on upgrading existing lines to cut journey times in the North and Midlands, with some new track laid.

The National Infrastructure Commission last year proposed scaling back HS2’s eastern leg in favour of improving east-west links. 

A second report – the Oakervee Review –also raised questions about the best way to deliver improved rail connectivity.

The Government last night insisted journey times would be ‘the same, similar to or faster’ than the original HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail plans.

One of the two tunnelling machines at the south portal HS2 align compound, in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire. The Government has said journey times would be ‘the same, similar to or faster’ than the original HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail plans

It said better east-west connections between major cities in the North and Midlands would also be achieved up to ten years sooner. 

Mr Johnson said: ‘If we are to see levelling up in action now, we must rapidly transform the services that matter to people most.

‘That’s why the integrated rail plan will be the biggest transport investment programme in a century, delivering meaningful transport connections for more passengers across the country, more quickly – with both high-speed journeys and better local services, it will ensure no town or city is left behind.’

Journey times between Manchester and Leeds could still be cut to about half an hour from 50 minutes. 

The original plans would have cut them to about 25 minutes. Ministers also say travel times from Birmingham to Nottingham will be cut from 72 minutes to 27, and Birmingham to Manchester from 90 to 40 minutes.

But figures drawn up by the National Infrastructure Commission suggest much less capacity will be created. 

Space for up to around 21,000 extra commuters into Leeds will be created under the plans, compared with up to 42,000 originally. Bradford will see a similar drop in capacity.

Lord O’Neill, former Conservative minister and vice chair of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, told Times Radio that ‘Bradford is being excluded’ after it was revealed it was expected the HS2 extension plans to Yorkshire would be scaled back.

It is expected the HS2 extension will not serve Leeds and Sheffield.

Lord O’Neill said: ‘It seems like a strange political and economic risk-reward calculation here because from what the team at the Powerhouse Partnership have figured out, all of this on that part of it would only save less than £4billion out of what was previously £39billion.

‘So, 10 per cent saving to disappoint millions of people around the north and, crucially, people in redwall seats and their MPs.’

Labour’s transport spokesman Jim McMahon said: ‘It’s laughable that the Government expects people in the North to be grateful for some half-baked and repackaged plans, as they attempt to quietly back out of promises made on the vital major infrastructure projects those communities need so badly.

‘Failure to deliver on HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail – schemes ministers have committed to dozens of times – is not only insulting, it is actively holding back investment and opportunity that could benefit millions.’

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