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We must have seat at table for new rail plan, TfN tells Shapps


Andrew Forster
23 March 2020

Transport for the North is demanding a major role in preparing the Government’s new integrated rail plan for the North and Midlands, and a key role in subsequent project delivery. 

Doug Oakervee’s review of HS recommended the new plan and the Government published terms of reference for the exercise last month (LTT 21 Feb & 06 Mar). These say the plan will advise on the “scoping, phasing and sequencing delivery of HS2 phase 2b, Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR),  the Midlands Rail Hub and other proposed rail investments”.

The National Infrastructure Commission is to prepare a report to inform the plan and, based on the Commission’s assessment,  the Government said it would consider “how to take account of the views of local leaders, consistent with delivering on the objectives of the scheme [sic] and value for money”.

Transport for the North’s board considered the Government’s proposals last week. Board members agreed to issue statutory advice to transport secretary Grant Shapps, emphasising that the North and Midlands “must play a full and decisive role in the development of the plan”. 

David Hughes, TfN’s director of strategy and programme, told the board: “In early discussions with ministers, Transport for the North has emphasised that whilst positive engagement is welcome, a meaningful role in decision-making is essential.” 

TfN must also have a role in delivering the plan’s recommendations, he added. “The North should insist on a TfN co-sponsor role at a minimum, alongside Government, in all major Northern rail projects.”

Hughes said the rail plan represented “a clear opportunity to now plan all major rail interventions in a coherent, phased 20-year pipeline of investment, avoiding further delay and uncertainty”. 

“The absence of any such plan has hindered effective decision-making and left projects such as the Castlefield corridor [the through lines at Manchester Piccadilly LTT 06 Mar] and Transpennine route upgrade in limbo for too long.”

Hughes said TfN “should ensure that the Government’s commitment to delivery of the full Y-network [of HS2] is maintained, whilst engaging positively in the review of specific alignment issues. 

“Consideration of capacity/speed/cost trade-offs on both legs of HS2 phase 2b should reflect the journey time benefits to the North West, North East, as well as Scotland and Wales of a high-speed line through the Midlands.” 

A review of the design of Phase 2b, covering Crewe to Manchester and the West Midlands to Leeds, should continue “at pace”, said Hughes, but “there must be time to consider new evidence and incorporate changes to HS2 plans”. 

“This includes the significant issues of connecting Liverpool, Lancashire and Cumbria to the high-speed network, as well as the key HS2/NPR interface questions at Manchester Piccadilly, including addressing the recommendations of Richard George’s independent review of Piccadilly, and to the south of Leeds [see story below].”

George’s unpublished report on Piccadilly considered both a surface station for NPR and HS2 or an underground station. The latter would cost much more but is favoured by Manchester City Council and Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham. George’s work left the question open.  

Hughes said TfN should press for a Government commitment to deliver the full Northern Powerhouse Rail network, said Hughes, and “accelerated delivery timelines for both HS2 Phase 2b and NPR”. 

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