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Rail Electrification: Northern Powerhouse

Volume 598: debated on Thursday 16 July 2015

6. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the cessation of work on the electrification of the trans-Pennine route and the midland main line on the northern powerhouse initiative. (901047)

8. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the cessation of work on the electrification of the trans-Pennine route and the midland main line on the northern powerhouse initiative. (901049)

12. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the cessation of work on the electrification of the trans-Pennine route and the midland main line on the northern powerhouse initiative. (901054)

Rail services in the north, including trans-Pennine, will see a massive boost from the new franchises that come into effect in April 2016—including a 36% increase in peak capacity into Leeds and Manchester. We are developing plans for even better trans-Pennine links, including electrification, as part of the northern powerhouse.

The challenge with capacity and the slow pace of the TransPennine—so-called—Express, and of the midland main line, have a real impact on York’s economy. Can the Secretary of State say when the modernisation and electrification work will now begin, and when it is due to be completed, so we can be confident that the work has not hit the buffers?

I am very sorry that the hon. Lady cannot welcome the £2.7 billion of investment in Intercity Express, which will mean 65 trains, in five-carriage and nine-carriage formations, introduced and serving her area from 2018 and a 28% increase in morning peak-time seats into King’s Cross. The new Northern and TransPennine Express franchises will operate fast, high-quality, inter-urban commuter services with more capacity, and improved local services—all with a strong focus on serving their customers well: more achievements, as opposed to the terrible franchise that the Labour Government re-launched in 2004, based on nil growth for the northern area.

In February, the Secretary of State wrote:

“A transformation in transport connectivity between the cities of the north is vital to realising their potential to become a ‘northern powerhouse’ for the UK’s economy.”—[Official Report, 27 February 2015; Vol. 593, c. 33WS.]

Now that the project has been postponed indefinitely, will he tell the House how we can build a northern house when the north has been left powerless?

The people who are talking the north down are those resentful of the improvements we have made. They are resentful and bitter about it. We have already electrified the track between Liverpool and Manchester, replacing two-car diesel trains with four-car electric trains from April 2015. That is just one of the many projects under way to re-energise the northern powerhouse and provide the opportunities I talked about, and we are not backing away from them. It is the Labour party that regrets that it never had the foresight to bring them into operation when it had the opportunity.

My hon. Friends are asking so many questions about the northern powerhouse that it has become more of a northern puzzlehouse. Will the Secretary of State confirm that plans were already in place to shelve the electrification project in the midlands and the north before the election, and does he agree that this amounts to nothing more or less than a cynical betrayal of voters?

My right hon. Friend has made it absolutely clear that electrification of the line will happen in the future. Does he agree that the hundreds of millions of pounds of investment in Kirkstall Forge and Apperley Bridge stations and the southern access at these stations shows that the Government have put their money where their mouth is? Does it not also show that, unlike Labour, which in government took £350 million out of the city of Leeds to spend on Crossrail—under a Labour council and with the support of all eight Labour MPs for the city—this Government are investing in the north and committed to the northern powerhouse?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I visited the site he refers to with him not so long ago. [Interruption.] No, it was after the election actually. I am also pleased to say that our investment in Leeds station to provide a new access will be very important for that station.

While welcoming the huge investment in rail services by this Government over the past five years, may I ask the Secretary of State what implications the pause—I stress the word pause—might have for the York-Harrogate-Leeds line electrification ambition and the important future links with Leeds Bradford airport?

My hon. Friend is right to point out our ambitious programme for the rail industry in this country. Many people have commented that there has never been as much investment in the rail industry as set out by the Government over control period 5. That said, the taxpayer, as well as the travelling public, would want us to get best value for money from our investment, and we will want to consider the points he makes when it comes to CP6.

The trans-Pennine rail route goes through Slaithwaite and Marsden in my constituency. Will the Secretary of State confirm when he expects Sir Peter Hendy to report back about the pause on electrification, and will he take this opportunity to debunk the myth going around that the Pacers will be replaced by refurbished tube trains, which obviously is not true?

I can certainly debunk that. It was made clear that once we got rid of the Pacers, they would be replaced by new trains, and that is what is in the invitation to tender, which is being looked at as far as the returns back to the Department for Transport are concerned. I hope to have more to say about that before the end of the year. This is a pause, and I am very much looking forward to Sir Peter’s report. It is his first day today, and I will be finding out shortly when he intends to give me that report.

Network Rail knew that northern powerhouse projects would be paused in March. Either the Secretary of State was told before the election that decisions would have to be made in June, or he was not, which means that one of two men must be guilty of abject negligence and failing to admit the truth to voters—the chief executive of Network Rail or the Secretary of State. Which one is it?

I told the hon. Lady when I was asked about giving a pause, and that is when I came to the House. Mark Carne has been doing a fantastic job trying to upgrade the railway while at the same time delivering a railway service for the passenger, which is very important. He described it as “open-heart surgery”. I pointed out when I went before the Select Committee back in March that there were problems with trans-Pennine electrification. That is why the ITT for Northern Rail was deliberately worded so that diesel trains would be in service on that particular line, because it was thought that electrification might have to slip.