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Investment in Rail: North of England

Volume 690: debated on Thursday 11 March 2021

What recent assessment he has made of the effect of his policies on rail investment in the north of England on the Government’s levelling-up agenda. (913242)

What recent assessment he has made of the effect of his policies on rail investment in the north of England on the Government’s levelling-up agenda. (913247)

What steps his Department is taking to invest in rail infrastructure projects in the north-west. (913248)

The Government are committed to levelling up rail infrastructure across the north. In that spirit, I am delighted to confirm that we have awarded £137 million to Network Rail to complete detailed design and deliver the Hope Valley capacity scheme. The scheme will transform journeys between the northern powerhouse cities of Manchester and Sheffield by removing bottlenecks on the Hope Valley line. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Robert Largan), who has campaigned relentlessly for the scheme since he was elected and has helped to get it over the line.

May I take this opportunity to remind the Minister that my constituents in Fleetwood would like to be connected to the rail network?

I heard the Minister’s answer to my question, but I do not understand—perhaps he could help me out here—how he squares that with a 40% cut to Transport for the North’s budget.

I know about the proposals to reconnect Fleetwood; I know them very well, because they have been championed so well by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard).

Transport for the North, which, of course, was established under the Conservatives—has seen its funding for Northern Powerhouse Rail and the Rail North partnership increase year on year. Last year, TfN had funding available to it of £59 million for Northern Powerhouse Rail and of £680,000 for the Rail North partnership. For the next year, both those figures have increased—to £67 million and £700,000. We are getting on with delivering schemes. Whether it be the trans-Pennine route upgrade, the Hope Valley line or phase 2a of HS2 coming to the north of England, we are getting on with delivering.

On that very point, will the Minister take this opportunity to correct the Prime Minister’s statement in which he denied that cuts were taking place to Transport for the North’s budget? Does the Minister believe that cutting core funding to Transport for the North by 40%, which is what is happening, freezing Northern Powerhouse Rail’s budget at £75 million —a third less than was requested—and mothballing plans to roll out contactless ticketing on services like the Tyne and Wear Metro will level up and improve transport infrastructure in the north?

The hon. Gentleman has been in this House long enough to know that the Prime Minister is always right.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. As I have just told the House, the budget for Northern Powerhouse Rail available to Transport for the North last year was £59 million; next year it is £67 million. Looking at that funding alone, it has all the money it needs in order to deliver on the priorities in the north of England. At the same time, we are getting on with delivering, with £29 billion invested in transport across the north of England since 2010, while in the Budget we committed to over £40 billion more for transport and rail infrastructure projects, £17.5 billion in renewals and upgrades over the next three years, and £22.6 billion for HS2. We are getting on with delivering, levelling up and building back better from covid-19.

The infrastructure that underpins the Southport to Manchester Piccadilly service, which serves my constituency, is part of the plan to bring in £400 million-worth of investment and to create jobs. Does my hon. Friend agree that connecting people to jobs and attracting investment is a key part of the levelling-up agenda?

Fresh from securing £37.5 million for the towns deal for Southport in the Budget, I understand that yesterday my hon. Friend met the Rail Minister once again to make the case for his local rail services, as he has consistently done since he was elected. I can assure him that the industry taskforce will be doing its utmost to address the concerns he has raised while preserving the core aim of producing a simplified timetable that all passengers can rely on.

Newcastle-under-Lyme is the second largest town in the UK without a railway station of its own, and if the Minister gives my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Marco Longhi) what he wants, we will be up to No. 1. Keele University is the only major British university without a railway station nearby. Will the Minister welcome the bid that I have submitted to the Restoring Your Railway ideas fund that would solve both those problems with a station in Newcastle and one at Silverdale for Keele University? Will he meet me to discuss the bid so that I can show him some of the details of how it will benefit my constituency?

My hon. Friend makes a very strong case for his constituency. As he correctly points out, the £500 million Restoring Your Railway fund is one of the many ways in which we are intending to level up the country and build back better. The Rail Minister, as chair of the panel, looks forward to reviewing the bid that my hon. Friend has submitted, and I know he would be happy to meet him to discuss the proposals further.