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Colne to Skipton Railway Link

Volume 667: debated on Tuesday 29 October 2019

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the proposed reinstatement of the Colne to Skipton railway link.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George. It is interesting that the Government have sent the heavy rail Minister to respond to the debate. I hope he will make the commitments to Colne-Skipton that we all want, about long-overdue investment. It is of course my role, as Member of Parliament for Hyndburn, to champion prosperity and encourage investment in the area for the people I represent. That is why I have been so vocal on the issue. If we reinstate transport in the area—particularly the rail link—it will provide an opportunity for east Lancashire and beyond. I thank all the MPs who have come to the debate, and the council leaders and campaigners who have brought the campaign to the place where it is today—where a serious proposition is being considered. That is testimony to their hard work. I particularly want to thank Skipton East Lancashire Rail Action Partnership for the campaign that it has run over many years, which is appreciated by all in east Lancashire and west Yorkshire.

What we are talking about is 12 miles of railway, which stands between east Lancashire and west Yorkshire—a third trans-Pennine artery that connects the two, which was taken away many years ago. It would not take a great deal of money to put that rail link back. At the heart of the issue, for many constituents, is the north-south divide. There is a grievance about the fact that little money is spent in the north, and particularly in the area I am concerned with.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. Does he agree that the fact that we have to fight for 12 miles of railway track seems to make a mockery of the northern powerhouse?

My hon. Friend is a tireless campaigner on rail and on the matter in question. She was at the forefront of campaigning to reinstate the Manchester link, from east Lancashire—albeit it is a second-rate one; at least we have got it now. She is quite right. The Institute for Public Policy Research has said that in London, for instance, £708 is spent on transport per head of population, but the average is £289 for the entire north of England. No wonder there is a north-south divide. People in the north see Crossrail 1, which is not yet completed, and Crossrail 2 already set up. That is after past projects such as Heathrow, Thameslink, and even Westminster tube station. All of that investment has cost the Exchequer billions of pounds, and there has been little for the north. It is right that people in the north feel that the Government should commit to the small stretch of 12 miles that we are discussing.

I hear arguments all the time about whether the reinstatement of the line would be economically viable. When will we use different indices for transport investment? The deprivation figures came out two weeks ago and the sub-region in question is the poorest in the country. If an economic case is to be made, there will never be an economic case for the poorest sub-region; at best it will be marginal, so there will never be investment and the indices will continue to plummet as they have. At some point the Government must step back and say that deprivation indices are a reason to invest. That would be the case in most other countries. It would be a question, not of using an economic model about the viability of the line, but of whether we are investing in people. That is the question: are we investing in people, instead of trying to count pounds, shillings and pence and reinvest in London and the south?

I am reluctant to say this under the chairmanship of the senior Merseyside Member, but although my constituency is in the Liverpool City Region, all points north and east, from railway stations such as Rainford, Garswood and Newton, go outside Merseyside. In my constituency people feel a strong Lancashire identity. Will my hon. Friend, who is a great champion of his constituency and of transport in the north, agree that we should work across boundary lines as the old county of Lancashire on issues of transport?

My hon. Friend makes two points. First, St Helens is occupied Lancashire and needs to be liberated. He is right to say that St Helens looks north towards Lancashire, but there is also a serious point to be made about the importance of connecting east Lancashire to the port of Merseyside and the support that we get from Peel Ports, which involves passing through constituencies such as St Helens North. It is also about giving people in St Helens the opportunity to look in all directions—particularly north—and to have an east-west link available through Preston and the East Lancashire line and over the Pennines. My hon. Friend is right to raise that. The north-west itself benefits from any transport infrastructure investment, wherever it is, because it allows more mobility.

Before I discuss the line itself, I want to conclude what I was saying about the Government’s broken economic model, which is just about pounds, shillings and pence, and all the investments in the south. We apply that metric to railways but not to anything else. The Government are happy to hand out grants for town centres or housing, with no expectation of any return. However, as soon as it comes to the railways, there is an expectation of an economic model with some return. The Government abandon the policy that they apply in other cases for deprived areas. I do not understand the logic of that. Surely the logic should be that if transport will bring prosperity, industry, jobs and wages, that is what we should subsidise. We should subsidise rail investment and the railways if we want to lift people out of deprivation—not titivate town centres or whatever else the Government hand out grant money to. The current system for looking at investment is broken.

My hon. Friend raises an important point about investing in prosperity and people. The Todmorden curve link is an example of what he has said. It took years of campaigning to get that short link, but the evidence in Burnley and east Lancashire is that completing that section of railway has brought investment and much-needed jobs to the region.

My hon. Friend is right. I do not have to hand the figures for Manchester Road station in Burnley, which is on that link. It is a circuitous route. It is not the old 30 minutes direct into Manchester; it is 60 minutes. None the less, passenger numbers at Accrington station have gone from, I think, 289,000 to 469,000— or thereabouts. I may be corrected afterwards, but it is not far off. That is a huge increase in numbers since the line was put in. The reinstatement of Colne-Skipton could only add to patronage and use of the lines, and investment in those areas.

The reinstatement would probably cost about £360 million. Let me talk about that number. The Government think that £360 million for a deprived area would probably not be money well spent. Not only would it be an investment in people, but if the railway is there for 100 years it comes to £360,000 a year. That would be the capital cost, instead of millions for titivating town centres. I might compare that with my local clinical commissioning group, which spends almost £1 billion in the east Lancashire area annually. We must get some perspective. There is serious ill health and deprivation in the area, but we are reluctant to invest in people and we try to cut margins on the railway. Economically that does not stand up. The Government’s policy of investing in other things and giving away grant money seems to me to be a case of looking in the wrong direction. We should be investing where it matters.

There are a lot of MPs here to support the proposition that the hon. Gentleman is putting forward, and I am glad to add my support. Does he agree that the secret to investment in any area is connectivity, which he has referred to, and that the key to that is a functioning railway line? Does he further agree that the proposed reopening of this line would enable not only better commuting, but more investment potential for these two towns and indeed the whole area, which should be the primary reason for the Government to pursue this proposal?

The hon. Gentleman is quite right; all these little bits of links, as I mentioned in my response to my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn), add value to other sub-regions; they are not just an advantage or an addition for that particular sub-region. These things really matter, and with this particular line we are talking about potentially connecting the port of Hull with the port of Liverpool for manufacturing and the shipment of goods, as well as passenger services. That has a broad connectivity that goes beyond east Lancashire, which is why there is support all the way from Merseyside to Hull for the reinstatement of this line.

Yet we are sitting here with 12 miles missing in the middle, between Skipton and Colne. I want to see that line upgraded to a twin-track railway for freight—I think it is gauge 12, although I will stand corrected if it is not—and built to modern standards. We need to put back that line, which was cut in 1970, because it will connect two big industrial heartlands and provide opportunity for both passengers and freight. The decision to cut the line back in 1970 was a terrible one, which has mirrored the deprivation indices for east Lancashire, but since then we have seen an increase in passenger numbers on Britain’s railways. In fact, they have doubled.

That is certainly what would happen here. Think of the Borders Railway: what a success it has been. The Government said it would not be a success and ScotRail said it would, and who was right? It was not the people in Westminster or the people in the Department for Transport; they were wrong. The people who were right were the people north of the border. That line has been a huge success, and there should be a lesson there to us all about listening to mandarins in Whitehall instead of investing in and listening to local people.

Most of the route between Skipton and Colne is flat and level, and can be walked in a few hours. Some bridges need to be rebuilt, and in a couple of places—particularly at Earby—major road works are needed. However, in the words of the DFT’s 2018 report presented to the Transport Minister last December, there are “no showstoppers” preventing us from putting those12 miles back.

As I said previously, the Skipton to Colne link has widespread support throughout the local community. It is important to say that it is also backed regionally and by businesses, and regularly features in the media. I think it is on the list of 13 schemes that the Government are considering for rail line reinstatement. The campaign has more than 500 individual paid-up members and 50 businesses are signed up, as well as other organisations. Key businesses include Peel Ports, Drax—which is having problems getting to the power plant there—and Skipton Building Society, among many.

The project also has the support of all the MPs in the area. I note that the hon. Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson) is here; he is a campaigner for the rail link and I pay credit to his campaigning, as I do to that of others—I do not think there is anybody, either candidate or MP, who is against the reinstatement. We have even had co-operation from Yorkshire, and that is remarkable. We just need some signs saying, “Welcome to Lancashire” when we reinstate the line.

On the point about the widespread support for this project, does my hon. Friend agree that it is hugely disappointing that the former Secretary of State for Transport, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), visited and made some very positive comments, which raised hopes in the area, only to have them dashed recently?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. We have had highs and lows on this issue that we should not have had. There has been a bit of dither and it has gone on for too long; today’s debate is about asking the Minister to make a firm commitment as we are going into a general election.

Returning to look at the service more widely, if passenger services were to go on the new Skipton to Colne railway line, they would be building on an existing success story. The Airedale line, which runs from Leeds and Bradford via Shipley and Keighley to Skipton, was modernised in the 1990s. Since then it has seen strong growth, and the Airedale line train services are now very popular. Last year alone, over 1.2 million passengers used Skipton station. The Airedale line is often described by experts as the flagship railway line of the north, and we need just 12 miles to connect to that.

It seems very straightforward that this line should go in and connect to such a successful railway line, just 12 miles away. What it would bring to the towns of Pendle, Burnley, my own Accrington and the Hyndburn constituency, with a population in excess of a quarter of a million, would be a remarkable transformation. We would be on a new network with new opportunities. That is not an insignificant population; it is a significant population in the immediate catchment area alone. I do not include Blackburn, Ribble Valley or Preston, which are also on the line—in fact, the line goes right through to Blackpool—and would also benefit, as would areas further afield, as my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North has said of St Helens.

The project will help not only east Lancashire, but the north-west and the north, so we must look at the wider advantages. There is a sticking-point at Earby, I admit, but as the DFT report says, I do not think this is a deal-breaker. A solution must be found that will minimise the impact on local residents, and I am mindful of that, but it is not something that cannot be overcome by engineers.

I will return briefly to mention that freight and manufacturing are a crucial issue. This is a manufacturing area; I often hear the hon. Member for Pendle say that east Lancashire is a manufacturing hub, but if it is a manufacturing hub, why do we not have a freight rail link in? Why are we not investing in this line and managing to ship goods around the world via the two ports east and west of east Lancashire? I am asking the question. Having the heavy rail Minister here, as I pointed out earlier, is important, because we must not do what is being suggested and put in light rail passenger transport. We must invest for the future, for business, for manufacturing and for prosperity—not just to transport passengers around.

I will touch on an important point at this stage. Network Rail has said to me in reply that it does not have a freight rail terminal anywhere near east Lancashire. There is an ideal site at Huncoat power station in my Hyndburn constituency, a brownfield site that is being redeveloped. I ask the Minister to comment on this: while I know these are matters for the private sector, if those 12 miles go in for heavy goods and the Government actively invest in this rail line, it is obvious that they should actively pursue a rail freight terminal for east Lancashire.

We have the road network, which at certain times is not full to capacity—a long way short of capacity, particularly in the evenings. It would serve the manufacturing base of east Lancashire if this line were put back in to the ports and beyond and we had that rail freight terminal. That is a crucial issue. If we are going to put the investment in, let us put in the other corresponding investments too.

If the project was given the go-ahead in early 2020, we could expect a new passenger service to be running as early as 2025-26. This is not a massive scheme for the DFT. It is something that we, as a nation and as a region, should be pursuing, and we should be pursuing it actively, not hesitating or holding back. This conversation has gone on for too long.

As I come to the end of my comments, I note that the proposal is backed by Transport for the North, which has provided evidence that the scheme should go ahead. It has published its report on the strategic transport plan for the next 30 years, the TfN STP, which has conclusively shown that there will be a massive and transformational boost to the deprived economy of east Lancashire, should this reinstatement go ahead. That will be achieved by bringing all of east Lancashire within one hour of central Leeds and Bradford, and improving connectivity with elsewhere. The scheme has TfN’s full support, which is worth saying, and it is part of the section of TfN’s investment programme titled: “Specific Interventions before 2027—Proposed Early Phases of Northern Powerhouse Rail and Additional TfN Priorities”. TfN is an active stakeholder, along with the Department for Transport and Network Rail, trying to help and input into the development of the scheme.

I say this with a general election possibly around the corner: we in the Labour party have committed to reinstating this link for heavy rail without hesitation. Furthermore, we have committed to electrifying this line, which is needed because the Airedale lane is electrified. I am also pretty certain that the Labour party will support private sector investment in a freight rail terminal in my constituency.

We need to move quickly, for Britain, the north and this region, but we also need to look beyond: when the east Lancs line is done, we need to start looking at the Accrington to Stubbins connection. We need to put back what was taken away and make these once-proud towns proud again. Let us put in the investment that they deserve. When the cotton industry was thriving, 25% of our economy’s foreign currency exports were derived from it and off the backs of those workers. They deserve better today, and that investment should be put in. We in the Labour party are committed to doing so as a matter of course.

Finally, I am interested to hear the Minister’s thoughts on those deprived communities and how he can stop their fall down the deprivation ladder. My hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Julie Cooper) is here. Burnley is the eighth most deprived town in the country, Blackburn is ninth and my constituency of Hyndburn is 16th. The hon. Member for Pendle is here, and he can perhaps say where Pendle is on the ladder; I think it is about 20th or 22nd. Those four constituencies, which would benefit from the proposed line, are among the poorest.

This is about investing in people. When we use metrics in considering whether to put those 12 miles of track back in, we should look at life expectancy, which is 10 years lower there than everywhere else, and we should look at the £1 billion cost to the CCG of not investing in people and leaving deprived communities to fail. Given that the railway will last for 100 years, we should not look at the small amount of £360 million and say that there is no economic return, and effectively—as happened on Merseyside—throw these people under a bus. I am interested to hear the Minister’s reply.

It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George. As a former Transport Minister, I wish to make a few comments.

The biggest challenge facing our rail network is dealing with the growth that we are experiencing. Capacity is the biggest question. We have more services on our network now than at any point in British history, with 140,000 services per week, and we have more passengers on our network than ever before, with 1.8 billion passenger journeys per year. That is more than 1 billion more passengers carried on our railways every year since privatisation. A huge transformation has happened in our rail network.

That has been achieved without compromising safety—we have a fantastic safety record, which is obviously at the heart of the rail industry. The challenge is putting more capacity into our network to meet the demand, having turned this industry around from a declining to a succeeding sector. That will be met in a variety of ways. The first, which attracts most attention, is obviously the construction of new lines, including HS2 more than anything else. That is a controversial project for some, but I am a big supporter of it. We will also see capacity delivered via bigger and longer trains. The new rolling stock is transformative—just look at the new Azumas serving the east coast main line. We will also deliver capacity by opening new lines and reopening lines. That is at the heart of this project: reopening an important line that will connect Yorkshire and Lancashire.

I support this project. It is quite straightforward: it covers only 12 miles, there is existing trackbed, and it will connect people and jobs. The Minister will consider a variety of good reasons as he takes his work forward, but let me highlight some. First, the area already has congested roads, particularly in Colne—in fact, the M65 seems to end in Boundary Mill’s car park. The rest of Colne can also be quite congested. Improving public transport in the area would be one way to improve the quality of life in Colne.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, if we are to take the Government’s commitments on the environment seriously, at the heart of it should be a commitment to enhancing public transport?

There is absolutely no doubt that transport is a significant contributor to the carbon in our atmosphere, which is why the Government are taking action. I agree with the hon. Lady’s basic principle, but to say that the Government are not doing anything would be wrong, because there has been record investment in public transport and in our rail network, with the control period 6 budget of £48 billion being the biggest in British history. But yes, the environmental impact of improving rail connections for the people whom this line would serve would be a real enhancement and is one reason why this is a good project.

The economic case was made by the hon. Member for Hyndburn (Graham P. Jones), and it has been made consistently by the two Members at each end of the proposed line, neither of whom can speak because they are Ministers—one of them is here. The Minister for Africa, my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson), is a long-standing champion of the scheme, for all the reasons we have explored in the debate. Improving his area is his top priority. At the other end of the line, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith), is also unable to speak, but I know that he is in support. However, it is not only the areas at both ends that the line would serve; transport connections would improve for communities much more widely. That would certainly be true of Burnley and the Aire valley, which would be clear beneficiaries, as would the Hyndburn area.

The trans-Pennine line is critical for the north of England’s economy, but it is congested. The Government are responding with a £2.9 billion trans-Pennine rail upgrade, but to really transform the northern economies we need to add capacity in lots of different ways. The trans-Pennine rail upgrade, Northern Powerhouse Rail and the Skipton to Colne line all have a role to play, which is why I am pleased that the Government are taking this project forward through its development phase.

As a former Transport Minister, I have met campaigners and businesses who have been strong in their support for the project. We should pay tribute to their tenacity in keeping going, because it is not always easy to get transport projects off the starting blocks in the United Kingdom, and tenacity is a key ingredient in doing so. I met haulage businesses and people seeking to move significant amounts of freight from one part of the country to another, as well as people who simply recognise that some parts of the north have more vacancies and some parts have people who need work, and that transport is required to connect the two.

I am afraid that I must gently challenge the hon. Member for Hyndburn, who said that the Government are not seeking to invest in the north. If we look at the data published by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority and covering the three-year period that we are right in the middle of, we see that the data from the national infrastructure and construction pipeline shows that the northern region has higher per capita transport spending than the midlands or the south—it is £248 per person for the north and £236 per person for the midlands and the south.

We can combine that with the fact that the biggest project currently underway on the railways other than HS2 is the transport and rail upgrade, and we can look at the fact that rolling stock in the north is being renewed for the first time in a generation. In only a few weeks’ time, the Minister will be able to say something that no Rail Minister has been able to say for a generation, which is that trains in the north are of a higher calibre than they have probably ever been, and they will be better than in any other part of our country.

The hon. Gentleman offers a different perspective from that of the Institute for Public Policy Research, which says that there has been a lack of investment in the north. I simply say to him that the public will ask this about the investment that is supposed to be going into the north, “East Lancashire is very deprived; whereabouts in east Lancashire will it go? I am an east Lancashire resident—show me the money.”

I have obviously seen the IPPR reports and the claims made, which frankly I think are not correct. The methodology of its reports is flawed in lots of different ways. That is why it is important to go back to the authoritative figures produced by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, which give us the data.

I think that we need more investment in transport right across the country, because I am a great believer in transport’s ability to drive economic growth, create opportunity and improve the environment. We should not spend time using methodology that is deeply flawed, frankly, simply to make a political point; we should look at the authoritative data, and I have already highlighted the numbers.

I will go back to my point about rolling stock, because this is a great opportunity for the north. We have not had decent rolling stock for a generation. The Pacer trains may have been a good idea at the time, when those who were managing our railways were taking cost out, because they were in precipitate decline. Those trains may have been the right answer then, but they are not the right answer now. That is why it is such a good thing that they are going. Many have already gone—a number went last week. We will see that continue to happen in the weeks ahead. This is not just on Northern; we are seeing new rolling stock fleets across trans-Pennine as well, and the new Azumas are entering service on the east coast main line. The transition from being utterly inadequate to having top-quality new rolling stock in the north is fantastic, and we should celebrate it.

As I understand it—I will stand corrected if the hon. Gentleman can tell me otherwise—the new rolling stock will not be on the section from Burnley to Colne to Pendle; that section will have revamped old stock. Can he update us on that point?

Some of the rolling stock that will be entering service across the north is indeed refurbished rolling stock. The rolling stock entering service on the Leeds-Harrogate-York line is cascaded stock that has been refurbished to a condition that is as good as new, and it is absolutely fantastic. The response from the travelling public of Harrogate has been very positive, because it is a step change from the Pacers, which have served my community for a very long time.

I do not accept the basic position of Opposition Members that the Government have failed to invest in the north and are failing to modernise, because that simply is not true. There is not just the new rolling stock and the trans-Pennine upgrade; we also have the northern hub, which is connecting Piccadilly and Victoria in Manchester. The Todmorden curve opened in 2015, following a £10 million investment, and reconnected Burnley to Manchester—I think that was the first time that service had ever been operated. Those are good examples of investment in east Lancashire that is transforming the local economies, because transport investment is a driver of economic growth. That is why the current Government have been so strong in their consistent delivery of transport investment.

May I close by urging the Rail Minister to press on with his good work as he invests, modernises the railway and recognises the benefits that it brings to communities right across the UK? This is one project that has to be considered and taken forward, for all the positive reasons that we have discussed in this debate so far, and which has been championed by my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle and others right across the area. As the hon. Member for Hyndburn said, it has support right across the political spectrum, at local and national level. For those reasons, I urge the Minister to press on.

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), a fellow Member of Parliament from Yorkshire. He made a very knowledgeable speech. Indeed, it was a statesmanlike speech, following the statesmanlike speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Graham P. Jones), whom I congratulate on securing the debate.

I am a relative newcomer to this issue, on the basis that I was not re-elected to Parliament until 2017, but I have asked a number of questions on the issue, and I notice that every time I or someone else asks a question from the Labour side, there is quite rightly somewhere in the answer the line, “I am sure the hon. Member will recognise the contributions of the hon. Members for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson) and for Shipley (Philip Davies) and the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith).” I do indeed recognise that. This is an all-party campaign. We even had Northern Ireland backing us earlier in the debate. The campaign certainly unites the great counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire like nothing else.

I have discussed the issue a couple of times with the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon. Obviously, he was formerly the Government Chief Whip. I saw him on the Airedale line two or three times on a Friday evening. I would be going to the pub; he would be going back down to London to run the country. But we would have a word about this scheme, to which he is committed. In a way, I am surprised, given such heavyweight commitment and given that it is now two years since the feasibility study was announced, that more rapid progress has not been made. Obviously, I understand that people such as my good friend and parliamentary neighbour the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon have had other things on their mind, but I say gently that we do now need to advance this cause more rapidly.

There are advantages to the Skipton to Colne scheme—we have heard some of them mentioned—that other schemes do not have. One is speed; the potential to implement this scheme speedily is something that no other trans-Pennine option has. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn mentioned, the line closed in 1970. The tragedy is that it survived Beeching and then was closed in 1970. It was opened in 1848. I was interested in hearing about potential dates, if we could get going, as to when it could be reopened. We should certainly commit today to start having the line rebuilt to celebrate its 175th anniversary in 2023, because unlike other lines that potentially could take freight across the Pennines, it has a relatively short-term horizon.

The economic growth arguments have been well made, but they apply equally across the Pennines in Yorkshire. It would be a massive economic boost if people from my constituency of Keighley could commute to Manchester—could have the option not just of Leeds and Bradford, but of Manchester. There could be holiday traffic to Manchester airport as well. This scheme could provide a great economic boost to Yorkshire as well as Lancashire.

I, too, place on the record my particular thanks to SELRAP. The last six months have been a strange period for those of us who have been campaigning on this issue, because all sorts of reports have been coming out about the nature of the Government’s feasibility study; all sorts of rumours have been coming out. I want more than rumours. SELRAP has been briefed, as have other stakeholders, by Government officials and Network Rail, but Ministers have been reluctant to put the information formally in the public domain. I therefore have a series of questions, on which I hope Ministers can help us.

What is the estimated cost of this scheme? My hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn mentioned a figure of £200 million or £300 million. Some rumours are that the Steer consultants are saying that it is more like £800 million or £900 million. Unless we can see the report, it is hard to analyse it.

There has been a great deal of debate about freight. Officials have intimated that the case for freight does not yet stack up and they are now going to look at other potential freight routes across the Pennines and how long it would take to implement them. I would have thought that after two years that work would already have been done.

Estimates for passenger traffic are now in the public domain. SELRAP tells me that the consultant’s estimate for a new park-and-ride station at Earby is a mere 40,000. Well, I am told that at Colne there are already 80,000 passengers a year, with poor rail links to the rest of Lancashire and Manchester. Skipton has 1.2 million passengers a year, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn mentioned. There is strong support from industry, but SELRAP tells me that Peel Ports and Drax were not formally interviewed by the consultants until this September.

I watched the rugby this weekend, as I am sure many others did. South Africa were holding on against Wales in the last few minutes, looking to kick into touch. Some campaigners are saying—I cannot possibly believe it—that the officials are intimating that this scheme is not being rigorously pursued and that Ministers are looking for the touchline until a general election. I would not credit myself with such cynicism. There are growing fears among some campaigners that this is not a priority, but it should be a priority.

Across the parties, we share a belief that the towns of the north, as opposed to the great cities, have not had a great deal. The towns fund is welcome. The prospectus for the towns fund comes out this week, with £25 million for Shipley and Keighley. I am very grateful for that, but this scheme would trump that in economic benefit. It would be a symbol of the Government’s commitment to towns. Whatever happens in the election, I hope that we can make rapid progress on this.

I had a brief chat with the shadow Chancellor recently, who reminded me that he signed an early-day motion tabled by the hon. Member for Pendle in 2012. The shadow Chancellor was in the top six signatures, such was his commitment. The hon. Member for Pendle managed to get an eclectic group in the top six. He also managed to attract the support of George Galloway, so there definitely was broad support. I was pleased to see that.

Transport for the North has been mentioned. It is important. Whichever Government are in office after the next election, Transport for the North needs to go to the next stage. As well as being a partner for Government, it needs to be a strong advocate for the north and, if necessary, take a slightly different line from Whitehall. It is a challenge for John Cridland, who chairs that group. He is coming to the end of his five-year term in 2020. He was at the Confederation of British Industry for five years. He said he was a “Star Trek” fan at that point and believed in five-year journeys. I do not know whether he believes in a second term at Transport for the North.

I understand that John Cridland is on the Government’s review of high-speed rail. It is interesting that he wears those two hats. If he suggests that high-speed rail will not go to Yorkshire or, if it does, that it will go via Manchester, it will be an interesting position for the man who chairs Transport for the North and is meant to be an advocate for the north. I think he has a chance, on this issue, to come out and publicly say, “Transport for the North won’t brook further delays from Network Rail or the Department for Transport but wants a decision this year.” We might get an election for Christmas—we will have to see what happens today—but above all we want the Skipton to Colne line to get the go-ahead by the new year.

There is ample time available. I remind the Front-Bench speakers that they are under no obligation to fill up that time. I also remind the Minister to leave some time for the mover of the motion to respond.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Graham P. Jones) for securing this debate. In his characteristic style, he set out a concrete case for the Skipton-Colne line. I thank all hon. Members for their contributions to this crucial debate, which is really about the future economy of the whole of the north. It is a pleasure to respond to this debate.

We are talking about just 12 miles of railway. Investment in this piece of infrastructure could be transformative for the north; that is why Labour has committed to that as part of our rail enhancement programme. If there is to be a general election, we will be eager to press ahead with this scheme, which is about rebalancing the economy. It will not only provide crucial opportunities to transport passengers and goods, but transform our economy and the opportunities for people in constituencies such as those that my hon. Friends represent.

We see major investment in the ports in Liverpool and on the Humber, but we must get the connectivity between them right. When I have discussed this with Transport for the North, it has stressed the importance of improving the trans-Pennine route, to which, I regret to say, the Government have not given the necessary enhancement for freight passage, which is important for establishing an east-west connection. The Skipton-Colne line—the west-east line—will complete the circle, ensuring that we get proper transportation.

I have spoken to businesses in the north, particularly Drax, which would benefit greatly. It says that the line would not only bring about improvements in the transportation of biomass along the transatlantic route to Liverpool, but improve the resilience of the infrastructure. Drax also depends on Immingham port, but we know that there are flooding risks there, so to secure our energy supply, we need to ensure there is an opportunity in the east and the west. At the moment, if biomass travels around our country, it either goes south, via Birmingham, or further north. These 12 miles of connectivity would make such a difference to Drax, which receives around 24 consignments each day. There would be the opportunity for storage of additional biomass along the line, which would build up the resilience of our energy sector, so this is an important project for us.

If the trans-Pennine route had a full upgrade, it would deliver for not only freight but passengers. Reliability is no longer a consideration for this Government, but it absolutely would be for Labour. Labour committed to electrification, and then the Government did, too; but then they withdraw that offer. This is a crucial project. We can go further than that: if we get freight connectivity right, we can reinvest and make the northern powerhouse actually happen, because this is about the wider economy in the north.

We need a modal shift for freight from roads to rail. That is crucial because of the environmental catastrophe facing our planet, for which we are responsible. Around a third of our carbon footprint is in the transport sector. The Government have not made the necessary progress on that. We believe that modal shift will be a game changer. In the transport sector, we need a 15% reduction of our carbon expenditure, year on year, for the next 10 years. The shift from road to rail, not only for passengers, but particularly for goods, will make a big difference.

We want to open up opportunities. Labour is putting forward a smart logistics strategy that not only connects industry to the rail freight sector, but opens up more opportunities for light freight and the accompanying development of rolling stock. We also provide for a transition between passengers and goods; we will look at peaks and flows in usage and time, so that rolling stock can accommodate both. We will ensure that far more goods can be transported across the network, while also investing in passenger enhancements. Of course, Labour’s plan, which, we must remind ourselves, will bring rail back into public ownership, so that the public have real control over our network, will also ensure connectivity across the network, which will bring the enhancements that people want.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn reminded us about the investment issues. I have to agree with him that, as the research shows, the north has not been well served. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones) raised the issue of Pacer trains; I have to relate my experience from the weekend. I was on a Pacer train travelling from York, and of course rain was pouring in through the ceiling. It is 2019! That shows the challenges that we face with our trains in the north. We need to ensure that things move forward.

We have a genuine opportunity here to invest in freight. The line will play a crucial role in rail infrastructure, which will result in the growth of new manufacturing and reinvestment in industry in the north. Of course, if we have strong freight paths, manufacturing can become more reliant on just-in-time manufacturing processes, smart logistics, as I have highlighted, and the movement of goods on our railways.

It is vital that that economic opportunity is brought to the north. The whole northern powerhouse investment in rail, including the trans-Pennine rail route upgrade and investment in the Skipton-Colne route, could bring around 850,000 good-quality jobs to the north. We Labour MPs understand the value of that; it is in the title of our party. This is about investment delivering for local people. We want growth in those opportunities.

We also want the development of new passenger routes. We need to make sure that new housing developments are connected to our main infrastructure. We want better connectivity in planning across the country, to ensure that all investments, including in the economy and in housing, are linked to our rail network. We would then have a strong passenger offer and a strong goods offer; our infrastructure investment will deliver both those things.

I also highlight the opportunity that establishing the right connectivity between ports in the east and the west will bring about in the wider economy of the country. We are a crucial link between the rest of Europe and the Atlantic and Ireland. Better connectivity through the Skipton-Colne route could well mean that we become a proper transport path, whereby goods touch base in our country, and companies use us as a corridor for goods. Again, that is really important for economic growth and opportunity, but will also create a new transport role for the UK in Europe. This investment will not just be expenditure; it will drive revenue for the Treasury, so it is really important that we consider the overall investment programme.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn talks about what will happen over the next 100 years. It is worth reminding ourselves that we are coming up to 200 years of the railways. I am sure that the annual spend he calculated will go down significantly if we bear in mind how well we build our railways and their longevity.

My hon. Friends the Members for Keighley (John Grogan), for Burnley (Julie Cooper) and for Hyndburn have highlighted that this debate is not just about infrastructure, including track and trains; it is very much about people. It is about jobs, opportunities and aspiration, which is very much what Labour wants from any investment.

Network Rail has put forward its proposals, but it is being challenged by Transport for the North, which believes that engineering can be streamlined in such a way that costs can be reduced. We will see what happens with that challenge. However, when we are considering investment, we must think holistically, as my hon. Friends have pointed out. We should consider not just the hardcore infrastructure, but the opportunity that such infrastructure opens up, including opportunity for new investment in jobs, and of course the wider returns.

The proposal before us will be transformative of the north, even though it covers only 12 miles of infrastructure. Labour is absolutely committed to opening up such opportunities for the economy and communities, and to the growth of our railways. We will schedule our enhancement programmes so that they are completed in a sequence that means that they will drive opportunity, not only for cities but, as my hon. Friends have said, for towns.

We will stretch that opportunity over a 30-year planning process. We can then schedule the jobs and the skills required to see real enhancement grow across the network, and to bring revenue back into the Treasury and, of course, the Department for Transport. That will then allow for reinvestment as we grow our public transport and freight paths. We will see that crucial modal shift and the necessary environmental change.

We are really optimistic. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough says that his Government have really invested in public transport; we remind him that, looking at the whole of transport, his Government have cut 3,000 bus routes, and buses play a vital role in building connectivity across the whole transport system.

We see the whole of the transport network—rail, buses, active travel—all working in a well co-ordinated way. I am happy to give way.

It is always fascinating to hear a Labour transport spokesman doing their very best to justify—

Yes—I beg the hon. Lady’s pardon. They try to justify why so little happened under the long period of Labour Government, when they electrified just 10 miles in 13 years. This Government do not cut bus routes; this Government do not operate bus routes. This Government have actually maintained their support of the bus network through the bus service operators grant, and extra funding was announced by the Chancellor in just the last few weeks. Can the hon. Lady perhaps help this debate by clarifying how much money will be required to deliver this magnificent wish list that she has just identified? Could she perhaps quantify the investment required and detail where it might come from?

I thank the hon. Member for his intervention. He will see in the programmes that we have set out, particularly on rail, that we will repurpose current expenditure across the network that is being wasted on privatised projects, and that investment will go back into driving down costs. In fact, the rail industry says there will be a 30% saving if we put in place the scheduling that we propose. We want savings to be made from current wastage, and greater investment in driving forward and delivering our enhancement programme.

We are talking about just £360 million for this project and the opportunities that it will bring. I can commit today to Labour being right behind my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn and all the rail campaign groups, as well as the local councillors, who have done so much work over the years to support projects such as this.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George. Already you have chastised my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), and for him to get chastised, something really bad must have happened—

Order. If the hon. Gentleman wants to see me chastise somebody, he is going the right way about it. [Laughter.]

My word—I know when I am put in my place, Sir George. However, I was just making the point that my hon. Friend is one of the most mild-mannered men in this place, and he would never deliberately do anything to upset anybody.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Hyndburn (Graham P. Jones) on securing this debate on the Colne to Skipton line. He made many a point about how my Department often gets its investment decisions wrong, so I thank him for making the case against nationalisation so well.

I thank the hon. Member for Burnley (Julie Cooper) for her contribution, and I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who is no longer in his place. I also thank the hon. Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn)—or occupied Lancashire, as I believe it is now called—and the Skipton and East Lancashire Rail Action Partnership for all the work that it has done in the area.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough is a former Rail Minister. In fact, he is my immediate predecessor. I know that when I remark on his comments I am, as someone said to me just before the debate, standing on the shoulders of a giant, so I am wary and I listened to his comments assiduously. I note his ongoing strong support for the project. He is absolutely right to highlight the new and refurbished rolling stock that continues to enter the northern rail market—a demonstration of the Government’s commitment to deliver on their promises to the north of our country. He also served under the former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), who, as was noted by the hon. Member for Hyndburn, visited twice to see what could be done with the project in February 2018 and January 2019. I am well aware of his long-standing and continuing support for the campaign and project.

Before I get into the main part of my speech, I should mention, as the hon. Member for Keighley (John Grogan) noted that I do all the time, my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) and also my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson), who is sitting to my right. The two of them attended a symbolic ribbon cutting of the project in 2014. The hon. Member for Keighley mentioned the early-day motion tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle, which many people signed. I know the shadow Chancellor signed it, but I believe he was in a position at that time of signing just about every early-day motion. His support for the project was none the less welcome. My hon. Friend the Member for Pendle mentioned the project in his maiden speech, as well as in other speeches. In research for this debate I read his contributions from the Westminster Hall debate that he secured on 26 April 2017. It is good that we have strong cross-party backing for the project.

I gently remind the hon. Member for Burnley that after years of campaigning for the Todmorden curve under a previous Labour Government, it was a Conservative-led Government who invested the cash to facilitate travel between her constituency and Manchester when the link opened in 2015.

The Todmorden curve railway link would never have been made had it not been for the Labour-led Burnley Council.

I remind the hon. Lady that the MP at the time, who also campaigned, was from a different party, but that is not the point.

I share the interest of the hon. Member for Hyndburn in ensuring that the corridor between east Lancashire and Yorkshire, in which the former rail line is located, has the transport infrastructure that it needs to flourish and grow. I agree that the potential role of a reopened Skipton-Colne line needs to be considered carefully. It is the case, as he kind of made clear, that the Government are investing in transport in east Lancashire and the north more widely. As he knows, the Government are committed to creating a northern powerhouse to rebalance our economy.

Investing in and fuelling the northern economy provides a great opportunity for the north to be at the forefront of the UK’s economic success for decades to come. I am a midlands MP. I welcome investment in the north because it drives investment in the midlands, too. A national benefit would flow from that. I want to gently correct, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough did, the incorrect IPPR study of investment in the regions. As he correctly pointed out, the investment is £236 for the midlands, £236 for the south and £248 for the north. However, it does not matter because the investment continues to grow, with projects coming forth that really will drive economic growth. Our continuing commitment to transforming rail connectivity across the north is evidenced both by the Prime Minister’s recent announcement on Northern Powerhouse Rail and the continued development of and investment in the trans-Pennine route upgrade programme.

As the Prime Minister reminded us when he visited Rotherham a few weeks ago, the north gave the world the railway. He said:

“And yet two centuries later, in this birthplace of the railways, we can do so much better.”

When he was in Yorkshire the previous week he reaffirmed his commitment to Northern Powerhouse Rail and slightly challenged people by saying that he eagerly awaited the emergence of the plans. He also noted that there has been significant Government investment, with 2,000 additional services now operating every week, £500 million on new trains and £100 million on refurbishment of the rest of the fleet, including wi-fi and power sockets as well as the electrification of the railways in the north-west. A huge amount has gone in.

Before I turn to the Colne-Skipton line, I want to highlight the significant transport investment already under way in Lancashire and across the north to support the northern powerhouse programme. Through the growth deal process, the Government have provided the Lancashire local enterprise partnership with £8 million to support the Hyndburn Burnley/Pendle growth corridor investment, designed to maximise the benefits provided by the M65 in that corridor. Our third growth deal with the Lancashire LEP provides further funding for the M65 corridor—junctions 4 to 6—which will bring further benefit to east Lancashire and the constituents of the hon. Member for Hyndburn. It was my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle who pushed for a study of the work. He is a very busy Member of Parliament.

I am sure the hon. Member for Hyndburn is aware of the proposals for the Colne to Foulridge—or A56 villages—bypass. When consulting on its east Lancashire highways and transport master plan in the autumn of 2013, Lancashire County Council set out six possible options for the scheme. It identified two that would potentially impact on the reinstatement of the railway at a future date. I understand that Lancashire County Council has not actively developed the options any further, pending the outcome of a centrally funded Highways England study that is under way.

More widely in east Lancashire we have, through the LEP, funded improvements to the Blackburn to Bolton rail corridor, and have enabled a more frequent service to operate between Blackburn and Manchester Victoria. That is not the first improvement that we have delivered on the rail network between east Lancashire and Greater Manchester. Thanks to our regional growth fund, under the coalition we reinstated the Todmorden curve, which the hon. Member for Burnley mentioned in her intervention. As part of the Great North Rail project, we have invested in improvements across the region. That is bringing major improvements to the northern rail network, one of the largest rail networks in the country, creating better journeys for passengers, supporting trade and creating, as the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) would like, a stronger economy.

Through the Northern and TransPennine Express franchises and investment in modern trains, we are delivering a host of better, more comfortable, more frequent, faster and more direct journeys. All the Pacer trains, which were possibly once loved but have absolutely outstayed their welcome, will be replaced by a mix of brand-new trains and trains refurbished and upgraded to an as-new standard. Investment in the northern rail network includes improvements to the Calder Valley line between Manchester, Rochdale and Bradford and Leeds—the other key current rail link in the central trans-Pennine corridor—and includes line speed improvements and improved signalling, resulting in increased resilience, more capacity and improved journey times. That is good progress, but we need to go further.

For the Hyndburn constituency, our investment has meant more frequent, hourly Sunday services to Colne from May 2018 and additional funding for the East Lancashire community rail partnership. As part of Northern’s £500 million investment, passengers in the constituency of the hon. Member for Hyndburn will benefit from new trains on the York to Blackpool service via Accrington later this year.

Finally, the Department announced in March 2019 that Highways England would work with Transport for the North on a study looking at options for improving road links between the M65 and North and West Yorkshire. The output of that study will inform consideration of the case for future investment. Those are all important building blocks of the northern powerhouse.

The line from Colne to Skipton was closed in 1970. The Skipton East Lancashire Rail Action Partnership, which is possibly one of the best action groups I have come across in my short time as Rail Minister, and certainly one of the most effective—I think I had a letter from the group two days after I was announced as Minister—was established in spring 2001 to protect the former railway track bed from development so that it could, in due course, be reinstated. As I have detailed, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough said, former Rail Ministers have met the partnership many times, and I join them in paying tribute to its work over the past 18 years to raise the profile of the case for reinstating the 12-mile link between east Lancashire and Yorkshire.

The hon. Member for Hyndburn will be glad to hear that the Skipton-Colne scheme is clearly referenced as a scheme in the “determine” phase of the rail enhancements pipeline published earlier this month. As my officials outlined at last week’s meeting, hosted in Westminster by the hon. Gentleman, the focus of that phase is on establishing the case for progressing the scheme. That means identifying the improved outcomes sought for passengers, freight and the wider economy, and considering a wide range of potential interventions that could deliver those benefits.

The Government assess the case for progressing schemes through a five-case business case that takes fully into account the wider strategic and social case for investment, in addition to economic, financial, commercial and managerial aspects. We remain committed to enhancing rail connectivity across the north. The ongoing work on Skipton-Colne makes a very important contribution to that, particularly on the important issue of the provision of capacity and capability for trans-Pennine freight.

The first stage of feasibility work carried out last year confirmed the engineering feasibility of reinstating a rail link between Colne and Skipton to modern railway standards. It also confirmed the strategic case for a rail link between east Lancashire, which has local authority districts that the hon. Gentleman himself described as the most economically deprived in England, and the Leeds city region, as well as for improved rail connectivity for freight between Mersey and east coast ports and inland terminals.

The hon. Gentleman will recall that during a visit to Colne earlier this year, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell, the former Secretary of State for Transport, announced that he had asked for further feasibility work to be carried out, in order to challenge the cost of the scheme and to establish whether there would be sufficient freight demand, before making a decision on whether a reinstatement scheme should progress to the next stage of the rail enhancements pipeline.

I thank the hon. Member for Keighley for highlighting the towns fund, which will hopefully help towns and communities across his constituency and the north in general. He raised a couple of questions about the feasibility study. I am happy to share the December 2018 strategic outline business case with the partnership, so that it can understand the sorts of issues that we rightly have to tackle as a Government to ensure that the criteria that we have set are fulfilled, and that we can deliver projects that offer value for money and deliver the required economic outputs. Perhaps that can be the hon. Gentleman’s Christmas present. It is not quite the Christmas present that he asked for, but it is part of the way to it.

There are lots of important considerations, because there are challenges for the project. I am sure that the project can answer those challenges, but it is important to highlight them so that they are open and public, and so that people can work together to overcome them, as I believe has been the case up until this point. The first consideration was the initial finding that the economic case for reinstatement was quite poor without provision for, and extensive use of, the route for intermodal trans-Pennine container freight traffic attracted from road. We need to ensure that that can be delivered.

Before the feasibility study, there was insufficient evidence that the route would attract a sufficient volume of intermodal container traffic. There is evidence that other trans-Pennine routes, with necessary enhancement of capacity and gauge, could offer shorter journey times, and thus more efficient utilisation of rail assets—both staff and rolling stock. I am aware of the extensive work being done, and that has already been completed, by SELRAP, right hon. and hon. Members, and local businesses, as demonstrated by some of today’s speeches, to estimate what level of local freight could be expected. That work is very helpful indeed.

We must always address concerns about the high estimated capital cost of the scheme—questioned by the hon. Member for Hyndburn—which is relevant to both the economic case and the general affordability of the scheme. The first stage of the further work carried out by my Department’s technical advisers is nearing completion. It has been carried out in close collaboration with Transport for the North, Network Rail and the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, with very helpful in-depth discussions with a number of freight customers. That work, which is continuing, suggests, first, that a high proportion of potential trans-Pennine intermodal container traffic could be carried on a low-floor wagon that requires a loading gauge that is smaller than the W12 gauge provided on a number of other trunk routes, and only marginally larger than the minimum current clearance on trans-Pennine routes.

Secondly, routing freight via Skipton-Colne is not only slower than other potential routes but engages a capacity bottleneck—as was mentioned in passing—on the eastern side of the Pennines, crossing the eastern approach to Leeds station. That is absolutely not insurmountable, but it does need to be addressed as we move forward.

Thirdly, we have confirmation that future demand for the key flows in question—Liverpool-Drax biomass and intermodal containers—is really sensitive to the end-to-end journey times that can be achieved, due to the impact on resource utilisation, so we need to work with those companies to ensure that there is a business case that works for us all.

Network Rail’s order of magnitude cost estimates are not inappropriately high, given the current state of the project’s development. However, further discussions are in progress with Transport Scotland, as the hon. Member for Hyndburn highlighted, regarding the Borders railway, as it appears that its out-turn costs were, per mile, much lower than Network Rail’s early estimates for the Skipton-Colne link. We are therefore trying to learn from what has gone on elsewhere, because we want to drive value for money.

I am really interested in what the Minister has to say. There seems to be an overengineering of a number of rail projects at their inception. Is the Department reviewing the way that infrastructure projects are approached, so that they are appropriately engineered?

The whole point of the pipeline is to try to do exactly that, and to learn from previous projects, when things are delivered late and run over cost and when things are delivered within budget. Network Rail is going out of its way to learn from those projects, so yes, I can give the hon. Lady that assurance.

We need to investigate a number of issues further before any conclusions are drawn, hence the need for the current process. Those issues essentially boil down to the two questions that I outlined: what are the likely costs, including gauge clearance, of creating viable timetable paths in the short and medium term for additional freight, and what levels of freight traffic is the route likely to attract? We are pressing on with that work, including through a Network Rail feasibility study on trans-Pennine gauging, which was announced last month, so that we will have a complete picture in a few months. My officials will continue to update the campaign’s project development team as the work progresses. We will continue to do all we can to answer the questions that I have raised and recent work has raised, which will hopefully mean that we can work together to move this interesting and popular scheme forward.

To conclude, I congratulate the hon. Member for Hyndburn and SELRAP on the continuing commitment to this issue that they have shown, as well as the other right hon. and hon. Members with an interest in this matter—both those who could be present today and those who could not. I repeat that the Government are keen to reach an early conclusion on what role a reinstated line could play in improving passenger and freight connections across the Pennines. Given the current phase that this scheme finds itself in, my focus, and the Government’s, is on establishing the case for progressing it.

I thank you, Mr Howarth, for chairing this debate. I also thank the hon. Members who have contributed to it, including my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn), who probably agrees that rail passengers in his constituency would be liberated by the reinstatement of this rail link, and my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Julie Cooper). She rightly pointed out that Burnley Borough Council, along with other local councils including Labour councils, led on the Todmorden curve initiative without much input from Lancashire County Council, which was very disappointing for a transport authority. We do not congratulate Burnley Council enough.

I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (John Grogan) and the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), the former heavy rail Minister, who has been backing this project for quite a long time. He probably feels that he has been backing it for so long that it must happen one day. I suggest that if he votes Labour at the next election, that day might come sooner, rather than later or never.

The Minister touched on the issue of the M65, which I did not bring up. To summarise briefly, that is another key pipeline project that must go ahead in conjunction with the rail link. I raised that issue quite a while ago, alongside my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley, and have been a vociferous campaigner at the vanguard of the campaign to ensure that we get that connection through to the north-east, to Leeds and to the M1.

The Minister said that the Government were investing heavily in the north. I gently point out that if he is serious about investing in the north, he should back the budget for Transport for the North and the Northern Powerhouse Rail project, which comes in at £39 billion; I hope that commitment is not going to recede. The Government seem undecided about how much they will spend on Northern Powerhouse Rail, with some figures as low as £12 billion, rather than the £39 billion that is required. I also hope that the Government will commit to the northern infrastructure pipeline, a £7 billion investment to get some of the projects up and running quickly. They have not done so yet, so the idea that they have made some commitment to investment in the north that is equivalent to what is invested in the south does not bear scrutiny.

The Minister talked about cost, affordability and value for money. We are back to those words again; we are telling deprived communities, “You are not worth it. You are not getting anything. Hard luck.” This is a £360 million project; over 100 years, that is £360,000 a year. East Lancashire clinical commissioning group spends £1 billion a year, and that figure does not include West Yorkshire’s clinical commissioning groups, which probably spend more. Building this rail line will cost 0.3% of the health budget, so let us get some perspective. When we talk about levels of deprivation, building this line is an easy answer. In the context of a health budget, this rail infrastructure investment is a minuscule amount, particularly if we look at the whole corridor. It probably amounts to less than 0.1% of the health budget for that corridor, where deprivation levels are some of the most severe in the country. I do not understand the Government’s thinking in denying this investment at this stage; we should press on and do it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley said, there is no better time than the 175th anniversary of the opening of the original line. Let us get the shovels in the ground.

The Minister mentioned value for money. Is it not about time that we get local contractors and local people in? This is a deprived area. Why are we not bringing in local contractors to do some of this basic work, such as the trackbed work, which does not require engineering?

It does not matter. That does not excuse us from bringing in local contractors to do some of the most basic work, lowering the costs. We do not always have to bring in experienced contractors from the south on high-value contracts; that does not serve the cost analysis very well. I do not think that affordability, cost and value for money should be the drivers of this particular scheme.

My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley was right to say that Christmas could have come early for us all if the Minister had committed to this rail line, but he has not. My hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell), who gave a very good speech, rightly suggested that it is about time that we brought the railways into public ownership so that we can make these decisions, instead of their being made by consultants and outside bodies. Local, democratically elected people should decide what is best for their local communities, not some of the experts who have failed east Lancashire.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the proposed reinstatement of the Colne to Skipton railway link.

Sitting suspended.