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North of England: Transport Connections

Volume 697: debated on Thursday 24 June 2021

Building on the £29 billion invested in northern transport since 2010, this Government are delivering improved connectivity to level up the north.

Does the Minister agree that we need a fully integrated transport network across the north, with smart ticketing? It is not a question of either/or; we need regular affordable bus services as well as the HS2 eastern leg, as well as Northern Powerhouse Rail, as well as electrification of TransPennine rail and as well as, finally, upgrades to the Huddersfield-Penistone-Sheffield line.

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Better transport is central to the Government’s agenda to level up the north. The TransPennine route upgrade is already under way, our national bus strategy is being delivered and we will soon publish our integrated rail plan for the midlands and the north, ensuring that transformational rail improvements are delivered as quickly as possible.

The Penistone line in my constituency connects major Yorkshire towns and cities such as Sheffield, Barnsley and Huddersfield, as well as serving smaller communities such as Penistone and Dodworth, but with only one train per hour in each direction, it does not meet the needs of local people or businesses. I have just submitted a bid to the levelling-up fund, with my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mark Eastwood), to upgrade the Penistone line and improve the service, but does the Minister agree that we must invest in these secondary commuter lines in the north if we are to see the same benefits in our city regions that other parts of the country already enjoy?

I agree with my hon. Friend that we must improve connectivity to all our communities in the north—especially Chorley—and I welcome her commitment to improving services on the Penistone line. Bids to the £4.8 billion levelling-up fund are being assessed, and we expect to announce the outcome of that competition in the autumn.

As the number of commuters travelling from Warrington gradually starts to increase again, does the Minister agree that east-west links from Warrington will really benefit from investment? Could I ask my hon. Friend to update the House on plans to extend Northern Powerhouse Rail from Manchester to Liverpool via Warrington Bank Quay, and does he agree with me that the £2 billion allocated for the Golborne spur could be better spent on helping local rail links across the north-west of England?

The Government remain absolutely committed to Northern Powerhouse Rail and, as ever, my hon. Friend makes a powerful case for Warrington. As he knows, decisions on the routes for NPR and consideration of the Golborne spur are matters for the integrated rail plan, so he will have to be patient just a little bit longer, but I can assure him that his representations have been heard.

Connectivity is key to levelling up northern communities, so I welcome the Government’s commitment to reversing Beeching cuts and restoring rail connections to towns across the region, including through the towns funding for a new railway station in Cheadle town centre. Delivering that connectivity is about timetabling and joined-up services, as well as the rail infrastructure itself. What is the Minister doing to work with Transport for Greater Manchester and other stakeholders to ensure that an integrated service is delivered and provides the regular connections that Cheadle and other communities in the region need?

Through the Manchester recovery taskforce, of which Transport for Greater Manchester is a member, we are working with organisations across the rail industry to develop the service and infrastructure options that will address the congestion and reliability issues across Greater Manchester and, I hope, improve the experience of all rail passengers across the region.

This Government have a track record of over-promising and under-delivering. We know that if the north had received the same investment as London over the last decade, it would have seen £66 billion more. For all their bluff and bluster about levelling up in the north, what do we see? Services between Newcastle and Manchester to be halved, the proposed increase in the frequency of services between Teesside, Sunderland and Newcastle scrapped, Transport for the North’s budget to be cut by 40%, and now Government sources saying that they plan to pull the plug on Northern Powerhouse Rail. Just to ensure that there is no further backtracking, will the Minister guarantee that Northern Powerhouse Rail will be delivered in full, on time and on budget?

Of course, the hon. Gentleman tempts me to prejudge the integrated rail plan, which I will not do, because no decisions have been taken yet. However, I am happy to confirm that we are getting on with investing in Transport for the North; we are not waiting for the integrated rail plan to be delivered. On top of the billions of pounds that we have already invested in transport across the north, just on 26 May we announced two new stations outside Leeds—White Rose and Thorpe Park—and we announced an additional £317 million for the TransPennine route upgrade. Of course, over 60% of the region is now covered with metro Mayors, with historic devolution settlements. We are getting on with investing in the north of England.