(Urgent Question): To ask the Minister to make a statement on the future of Transport for the North.
Transport for the North is a sub-national transport body. Its statutory role, as set out in legislation, is to provide a strategic transport plan for the region and to provide advice to the Secretary of State.
Since 2016, in addition to these statutory responsibilities, Transport for the North has co-cliented the development of Northern Powerhouse Rail alongside the Department for Transport. As this important programme moves into its next, more complex, delivery stage, it is right that we have a single, clear line of accountability to the Secretary of State. This has been an important lesson learned from the delivery of other major infrastructure projects. Therefore, Transport for the North will transition from co-client to co-sponsor, continuing to provide statutory advice and to input on the strategic direction of the programme. The details of this arrangement are currently being worked out between my Department and Transport for the North.
Transport for the North’s advice was carefully considered, alongside a range of other evidence, when developing the integrated rail plan. Any changes to Northern Powerhouse Rail’s delivery does not impact Transport for the North’s statutory function, nor the level of core funding it will receive this financial year to carry out those functions. Nor does it alter the Government’s commitment to levelling up the north or the fact that the integrated rail plan commits £96 billion to improving rail infrastructure across the midlands and the north—the largest single Government investment in the history of British railways.
I thank Mr Speaker for granting this urgent question and thank the Minister for his response.
Sadly, though, I am far from reassured that cutting Transport for the North’s responsibilities and funding are not just spiteful reprisals for TfN advocating strongly on behalf of the north for a new high-speed, fully electrified Northern Powerhouse Rail and for the eastern leg of HS2. I thought there was broad consensus, informed by Lord Heseltine’s 2012 report, that rail infrastructure investment is a central part of the levelling-up agenda. Levelling up, in turn, was meant to be a central part of the Government’s strategy to increase overall UK economic growth. Treasury rules were meant to have been changed. The Prime Minister has repeatedly promised not one but two high-speed train lines: the eastern leg of HS2, which would have benefited areas to the east of Leeds, including Hull; and Northern Powerhouse Rail. Now regeneration of great cities such as Hull and Bradford will be held back for another 20 years at least, with poor connectivity, slow speeds and inadequate capacity for passengers and freight.
By removing Transport for the North’s responsibility for developing Northern Powerhouse Rail, Ministers reduce scrutiny and accountability and show no interest in working in partnership with the north. So much for devolution. When challenged, Ministers have decided to stop the criticism by gutting the powers of Transport for the North and centralising to Whitehall responsibility for rebranding the TransPennine route upgrade as Northern Powerhouse Rail. This Government are taking back control to prevent levelling up.
I, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) and many other MPs across the north want answers to the following questions. When did the Secretary of State decide that Transport for the North’s advice on the integrated rail plan would be ignored and that it would not be provided with the full details and impact assessments of the integrated rail plan? What will be the fate of Transport for the North if it continues to advocate for a genuine Northern Powerhouse Rail line? What implications do the changes to TfN have for the wider levelling-up agenda and prospects for boosting UK GDP growth? Finally, how can the north now have a genuine say in its future?
Regrettably, the right hon. Lady’s comments seem to stem from a confusion about what Transport for the North does. The last time she and I debated its role in this Chamber, she argued that her inability to secure improvements to the toilets at Hull station was why Transport for the North needed more money. I therefore gently remind her and hon. Members across the House that Transport for the North is not, nor has it ever been, a delivery body. Its statutory function is purely to develop a strategic transport plan for the north, in the same way Midlands Connect does for the midlands, and it therefore remains unchanged.
What has changed is that, as we are now moving into project delivery, the Department for Transport will assume the role of sole client for the Northern Powerhouse Rail programme, with responsibility for instructing both Network Rail and HS2 Ltd. Establishing that single client, answerable to the Secretary of State, is consistent with the Northern Powerhouse Rail delivery model endorsed by the board of Transport for the North in January 2021. We will take on board lessons learned from other major projects about the need for clear accountability.
The right hon. Lady might want to stand in this Chamber and talk about process and minor technical changes to delivery models, but I know what her constituents and mine, also in the north of England, want this Government to talk about: getting on with delivering the changes people want to see. We are investing £96 billion in the railways of the midlands and the north, the biggest investment the Government have ever made in the rail network. It will slash journey times, double or in some cases even triple capacity and, crucially, it will do all that 10 to 15 years earlier than the original plans.
When the right hon. Lady’s constituents in Hull start to see the doubling in frequency of trains to Leeds, for example, they will not be worried about co-clienting or co-sponsoring. They will see a Government who are getting on with the job of levelling up this country and delivering the transformational transport improvements we were elected to deliver.
May I first declare an interest, having been a member of the Transport for the North board for a period of time and having been involved in setting up the subnational transport bodies? I confirm exactly what my hon. Friend has just said: Transport for the North is not a delivery body. What my constituents want to see is more progress in the delivery of our rail improvements. We have seen huge progress on rolling stock changes in the north. Next month we will see a doubling of the frequency of the service from Harrogate and Knaresborough to York, thanks to the work of North Yorkshire County Council and Don Mackenzie in particular. Will my hon. Friend just confirm that there will be a focus on delivery of the investment plans and accountability mechanisms for those charged with that delivery?
My hon. Friend, a former rail Minister himself, makes an important point. We must ensure there is clear accountability to Ministers for delivery of these projects, in the same way that there is already clear accountability for projects being delivered through the rail network enhancement pipeline and other schemes across the country. I completely endorse what he says. Transport for the North will remain an important partner for us to work with, and we look forward to receiving further advice from it, but the delivery model is best done with the Department for Transport as the sole client.
How dare the Minister stand there and talk down my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) for her question? She knows exactly what this means for people in Hull and for people in the north of England. The funding that was promised has not been delivered. The powers that were promised to the north of England, so that our metro Mayors, our council leaders and people in the north would finally get control, are being snatched away by this centralising Government, and we know exactly what it means—so let us have no patronising from the Government Front Bench on that.
We all know exactly what this is. We have seen it with the Electoral Commission: when it comes up with an answer the Government do not like, it is attacked. When parliamentary standards bodies come up with an answer the Government do not like, they are attacked. When Transport for the North comes up with a plan the Government do not agree to, it is to all intents and purposes scrapped.
I begin by asking the Minister to point now to where the money will come from and where the plans will be developed for new transport projects, bearing in mind that the integrated rail plan is a plan for 29 years. If no new schemes come forward in that period, residents in Hull will see very little investment. What are the practical implications for the staff? How many people who currently work for Transport for the North will be TUPE-ed across to the new organisation?
We know this is a Whitehall power grab, and we also know what it will mean in practice: no new projects, just more smoke and mirrors. Last week, the Transport Secretary said he was spending £96 billion in the north. That is not true. It is around half of that coming to the north of England, and that is over 29 years. What does that mean in practice? It is actually £100 per person a year, when the transport spending gap between the north and London is £400 per person a year. That is not levelling up. To be clear, we are not demanding that London gets levelled down. We are asking for the same.
We want to know that this is not a centralising power grab, because, if it is, we will not stand for it. What will the Minister do now, while he has a final chance to put the record straight, to convince us that this is not about robbing people in the north of the investment they deserve or a centralising Whitehall ministerial power grab, and finally to promise that the 29-year plan will not be the last word on transport investment in the north of England? If it is, the Government will have failed again.
Dear oh dear. It is clear once again from what the shadow Secretary of State has said that Labour want to stick to the outdated plans that would give the east midlands and the north nothing for 10 years. Our plan delivers the same, similar or better journey times to almost everywhere, with eight of the top 10 busiest rail corridors in the north and midlands benefiting, and it starts delivering those improvements 10 years sooner.
Labour wants to focus solely on the biggest cities in the north, ignoring smaller towns and communities that link them. Under the original plans, which Labour is so determined to stick to, places on the existing line such as Doncaster, Huddersfield, Wakefield and Leicester would have seen little improvement to, or even a worsening of, their services. Our plan means that those great northern places will receive the infrastructure projects they need to link them up with local, regional and national services that run alongside them.
In Government, Labour failed to upgrade our railways. Our infrastructure tumbled down the world rankings. On top of that, the Leader of the Opposition cannot even decide whether he supports HS2. Labour does not have a plan to deliver for the midlands and the north; we do.
I thank the Minister for all the efforts I know he has put in during his time in the role to getting the very best package possible. I stood at that same Dispatch Box, promising the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) on very many occasions that Northern Powerhouse Rail would go all the way from Liverpool to Hull. Can the Minister set out how the integrated rail plan delivers the commitment I made within the journey times that she anticipates—and how much sooner it will now be delivered, compared with if we had had to build a second, parallel rail line?
I thank my hon. Friend and predecessor for his comments. As he will know, the Prime Minister was very clear and we were clear in our manifesto that we would commit to Northern Powerhouse Rail, with an initial focus on the section between Manchester and Leeds. The integrated rail plan expands that initial focus to between Liverpool and York. That is the core investment. Alongside it, many of the upgrades already being delivered as part of the rail network enhancement pipeline will continue—for example, upgrades to the Hope Valley line, improving journey times to Sheffield—but we will continue to consider other investments in our rail infrastructure alongside that, to deliver the transformational benefits that we all want to see to communities across the north of England.
The undermining of Transport for the North is just the latest act in a pattern of centralisation and Whitehall-think emblematic of this Administration. This Government do not like transport policy being run by Holyrood, so they cobbled together a Union connectivity review over its head—although it must be said that before the review is even published, the bridge over the biggest undersea munitions dump in Europe, the Prime Minister’s pet project, has been dumped. This Government do not like transport policy being run by the Mayor of London, so they are starving him of funding. Now the Government do not like transport policy being criticised by Transport for the North, so they are slashing its funding and removing many of its responsibilities.
Why does the Minister think this Government know better than the people and elected representatives of the north of England? Last week, the Secretary of State said that a whole 75 staff from the DFT have moved to Leeds. When will the rest follow to the north, so that the people at the top of the Department truly understand the rundown and under-invested transport network that they are responsible for? Will the Minister guarantee that devolved Administrations will not be subjected to such attempted power grabs and undermining in future?
The hon. Gentleman talked about devolution. As he will know, 60% of the north is now covered by mayoral combined authorities and metro Mayors thanks to the historic devolution settlement by this Government. Indeed, this Government established Transport for the North.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about Department for Transport staff based in Leeds. I am delighted that, in the past year, we have established a new DFT office there. Last time I visited, 70 staff were working there. I am pleased to confirm that, as of today, the number has gone above 100. I look forward to visiting again to welcome even more staff in the coming months.
We should take no lectures from Opposition Members who, in 13 years in government, did not lay a single mile of electrification in my area, downgraded northern routes, ploughed money into the south and left northerners rattling around on decades-old Pacer trains. I say to the Minister that we are grateful to have received our restoring your railway funding for the Brigg line, because if someone misses that last train on a Saturday they have to wait a week for the next one. Can he look closely at the business case that has been submitted on that? Will he also agree to work with us on the Goole to Leeds line through town deal funding? Can he tell us what improvements there will be to East Yorkshire and north Lincolnshire—the Humber—from the trans-Pennine upgrades?
There was quite a lot in that. I am sure my hon. Friend will be delighted to hear that the restoring your railway fund announcement will be separate from the integrated rail plan, so we have more announcements to come on that along with the rail network enhancements pipeline, which will also be published separately. The £96 billion is not the total of our investment in the north but the core pipeline for the north of England. He will also be pleased to hear that the investment in the trans-Pennine route upgrade will double the number of services from Hull to Leeds, among other benefits.
The eastern leg of HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail in full with a city centre stop in Bradford were promised many times. Now we hear that the Government have, in effect, dismantled Transport for the North by removing its powers and staff. A letter was sent from his Department to TfN late last night, but that does not change the fact that it did not approve the Government’s approach—the Minister should show us the minutes. What we have seen is a mishmash of broken promises and a silencing of the Government’s critics. How can the north have a say in its own future? Can he define exactly what a co-sponsor is and what its powers are?
It is important to say that we are not abandoning Transport for the North staff. We thank them all for the work that they have put into developing options for Northern Powerhouse Rail. The TUPE discussions are ongoing, so we hope that those staff can join the growing number of Department for Transport staff based in the north of England. The Government remain committed to HS2 and to Northern Powerhouse Rail. The plan that we set out last week explains how we will deliver the benefits to communities across the north sooner than ever expected.
There are some excellent measures in the integrated rail plan that will be transformational for the economy across the country. In the plan, some money is set aside—I think £100 million—to look at the feasibility of other measures. Will the Minister consider asking Transport for the North to look at an improved direct connection between Bradford and Manchester? It currently takes about an hour to travel that 40-mile journey, so it would be transformational for Bradford and Manchester and across the north.
The £100 million announced in the integrated rail plan is specifically to look at how we can get HS2 trains most effectively from East Midlands Parkway to Leeds. We have not ruled out the construction of the full eastern leg at this stage; we are looking at whether it is the best long-term solution.
On Bradford, my hon. Friends the Members for Shipley (Philip Davies) and for Keighley (Robbie Moore) continue to remind me of its importance. I am just over the border from the Bradford district, so we are keen to see what we can do to support it. I spoke to the leader of Bradford Council the day after the publication of the integrated rail plan. We are keen to continue working with Bradford and local stakeholders to deliver benefits to that area.
Following the Minister’s words about Bradford, the whole city of Bradford and my constituents are angry. Some 530,000 people have been failed. Although I welcome the question of the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) to focus on Bradford, the truth is that the Government have stripped it of £30 billion of growth in the next 10 years. It is the fourth-youngest city in the country. I also hear on the grapevine that the Government have held on to the IPOSs for Leeds because there might be a U-turn. My question is simple: when will he U-turn on the NPR?
The hon. Lady asks when I will U-turn. We do not intend to U-turn for all the reasons set out in the integrated rail plan. To spend billions of pounds investing in the existing rail route from Manchester to Leeds, and then to spend £18 billion more building a brand-new line, simply did not make economic sense. We will reduce journey times from Bradford to Leeds from about 20 minutes to 11 minutes, and we will continue to work with regional stakeholders to deliver benefits[Official Report, 25 November 2021, Vol. 704, c. 6MC.].
My constituents are not interested in quangos, but they are interested in actual transport infrastructure. The Minister knows how unhappy and disappointed I was with the announcement regarding Bradford, the scaling-back of Northern Powerhouse Rail and the lack of a station stop in the centre of Bradford. Even at this late stage, I hope that the Government will think again about that. Given the huge disappointment to Bradford in that announcement, I urge him to go away and think about what additional transport infrastructure could be delivered to the Bradford district. I urge him to start with the Shipley eastern bypass.
My hon. Friend continues to be a doughty champion for Shipley. As he will know, alongside the £96 billion announced in the integrated rail plan, we are spending more than £7 billion on road investments and more than £5 billion on buses and cycling initiatives. I am sure that his campaign for the bypass has been heard by other Ministers in my Department.
The integrated rail plan gives nothing to the north-east and will create economic imbalances across the north, giving us all less and at a later date. If the Government were confident of their position, there would have been a ministerial presence at this morning’s meeting of Transport for the North. Instead, TfN seems to be meeting the same fate as anyone else who dares to speak the truth about the Government. Can the Minister confirm exactly what powers he is grabbing from Transport for the North and how many people are set to lose their jobs?
My hon. Friend the Minister knows that I am a strong proponent of better transport links and infrastructure for my constituency, so I make a plea to him: whether it is in Transport for the North, Midlands Connect or any other organisation that is strategic or involved in delivery, could Lincoln figure more than just occasionally on a map?
My hon. Friend continues to make a passionate case for Lincoln. As he will know, many of the investments that he has campaigned so strongly for are the responsibility of other Ministers in the Department for Transport, but I am sure that they have, once again, heard his pitch.
I say to the Minister that there is no evidence that the Department for Transport can deliver on time or on cost, so why has the change to the delivery mechanism taken place? The cuts that we saw last week will have a serious impact on the economy across the whole of the north of England. Rochdale wants to trade with Hull, Newcastle and Sheffield, but the Government’s plan does not allow that to take place.
The hon. Gentleman asks about the change from co-clienting to co-sponsorship. As he will know, Crossrail, which has yet to open, was a co-cliented project, and one of the major lessons we have learned from that project being massively over-budget and delayed is that co-clienting does not work on major infrastructure projects. There need to be clear lines of accountability to the Secretary of State for Transport—he needs to be solely responsible for these projects to Parliament, the National Audit Office, the Public Accounts Committee and others—and that is why we are going for a sole-clienting model. It is one of the lessons we have learned from the Crossrail debacle.
I welcome the improved connectivity from Kettering railway station to the north as a result of Government investment in our railways. We have recently had our twice-an-hour service to and from the north reinstated, after it was taken away by the Labour Government in 2010. Can my hon. Friend confirm that the connectivity from Kettering to and from the north will be further improved with the complete electrification of the midland main line?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Kettering is one of many parts of the country that will benefit much earlier and more significantly from the plans we announced last week than from the previous plans. He continues to campaign for further improvements in his constituency, and I am keen to continue working with him to ensure that we deliver those benefits, such as the midland main line electrification, as early as possible.
It is quite simple, is it not? The Government are slashing Transport for the North because they are slashing transport for the north, abandoning the much-promised ambitions for an integrated transport infrastructure that our economy needs. Will the Minister tell me who will set out the plans for our northern transport future, or do we not have one?
Last week, the shadow Secretary of State described £96 billion, the biggest investment in our railways, as “crumbs from the table”. I think we need to focus on what we are delivering, not the amount of money we are putting in. We will continue to work with Transport for the North, as the statutory transport body in the north advising on our plans, and we look forward to continuing to have a positive relationship with it.
Way back in 2016, when I was thinner and probably younger looking, I helped a young man by the name of George Osborne set up the Northern Powerhouse Partnership. As part of that, I actually worked with those at Transport for the North in their Manchester Piccadilly offices, and I have to tell the House that I found them partisan, specious and entirely obsessed with Labour party politics. Does the Minister agree with me that what is happening here today is the Labour party finally realising that it does not control the whole of the north of England, and there is more than one way of getting something done?
I am delighted to see my hon. Friend in the House, alongside many other Conservative MPs elected in 2019. I am surrounded by far more Conservative MPs in the north of England than I used to be when I was first elected in 2010, and it is a real pleasure, because people such as my hon. Friend bring real expertise to this House. We want to work with Transport for the North in the same way that we work with Midlands Connect and other sub-national transport bodies across the UK, but as we move into delivering the benefits of these investments sooner, we need to have the Department for Transport as the sole client delivering these projects.
In February 2020, I asked the Prime Minister about this issue, and he told me:
“We will make sure that we have Hull fully as part of our vision for High Speed North”.—[Official Report, 11 February 2020; Vol. 671, c. 729.]
So why were the strong recommendations from Transport for the North for electrification of the Hull to Selby line completely ignored?
No one’s advice was ignored. For 20 months after we launched the integrated rail plan, following the Oakervee review, in February last year, we have taken a range of evidence from the National Infrastructure Commission, Transport for the North, Midlands Connect and stakeholders across the region. As we have worked through those plans, we have been clear that we will deliver benefits to people across the north of England sooner than the original plans. I think that the £96 billion we have announced—an historic investment in railways across the midlands and the north—is something of which we can all be proud.
When it comes to the discussions around this, I do not think it is helpful to get the Northern Powerhouse Partnership chairman on TV claiming that things are not going to happen that were never even going to happen under Northern Powerhouse Rail. The misleading words being said are no use to this debate at all. When we talk about the north, one of the big things that is a concern to us is the Leamside line and the things that should happen with it. It does get a mention in the IRP, about how this could be done through a different mechanism, but would the Minister meet me to discuss that further and work out how best we can continue to progress the Leamside line?
Order. Can I make it clear to those who are gesturing while sitting down that I have called to ask questions several people who were not here at the very beginning of the Minister’s response to the urgent question? I should explain to the Chamber that I have been very lenient today because I am aware that the Annunciator was not changed until several—[Interruption.] No, the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) must not dissent from what I am saying. It is a very simple explanation of why I am being kind and considerate to the Chamber.
I could stop and say that the moment the Minister gets to his feet, anyone who is not in the Chamber at that moment is not allowed to utter a word, but in my judgment that would mean that neither the Minister was properly questioned nor the Government held to account on this important matter. On this occasion, the monitor was not changed, this part of business started early and several people were taking part in an important event with Mr Speaker downstairs. I have therefore been lenient, because I think it is more important, when there is a matter of judgment, to come down on the side of giving colleagues the opportunity to ask their questions and to hold the Government to account. That is my judgment and why I have done this, and it ought not to be questioned.
Both today and last week when Ministers talked about the scrapping of the eastern leg of HS2, they have talked a lot about improving journey times, but we all know that one of the reasons for doing HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail was, above all, to improve connectivity and capacity. Can the Minister explain how the new integrated rail plan and today’s announcement about Transport for the North are going to increase capacity and connectivity, and will this reduce fares to encourage more people to stop using their cars and get on to trains?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. As set out in the integrated rail plan, on many of these key routes we are doubling or trebling capacity. I also want to be clear, on the eastern leg, that we have committed and funded through the integrated rail plan to build a first phase from the west midlands to the east midlands, and there is now £100 million for further work to look at the best way to get HS2 trains from there through to Leeds. For the time being, therefore, the plans to build the full eastern leg remain as they are. No safeguarding has been lifted, and that is something that will be changed only after we have the outcome of the study.
As a big supporter of HS2, I have to admit I was very disappointed about the news of the eastern leg going up to Yorkshire. Obviously, I was disappointed as well that the Leader of the Opposition had campaigned against it so vigorously. Can the Minister confirm that there is lots of good news in the integrated rail plan for my constituents who use Huddersfield station, Slaithwaite station and Marsden station on the trans-Pennine route? I thank the Minister for visiting Marsden last year with local rail campaigners, and will he confirm that we can get investment in disabled access at Marsden railway station as well?
My hon. Friend is completely right in what he says about the Leader of the Opposition, who has opposed HS2 consistently over the years and said that its impact on the country would be “devastating”; even in 2019, he was still calling for the project to be cancelled. I am happy to confirm that, as part of the trans-Pennine route upgrade, every single station in my hon. Friend’s constituency will see massive investment, including to make them all fully accessible to disabled passengers.
The reason why Transport for the North has rail and political leadership on it is to join up the local economies of the north with the transport system. That is what the Northern Powerhouse Rail project was all about. Cutting the project means that we are going to lose connectivity and capacity and see major disruption on the route. The board of Transport for the North met this morning to try to find a way forward with the integrated rail plan and its proposals. Will the Minister ensure that he meets the board and finds a way forward?
I spoke to Martin Tugwell, the chief executive of Transport for the North, the day before the integrated rail plan came out. I continue to have regular conversations with Transport for the North, and we are determined to work closely with it as its role moves from co-client of the Northern Powerhouse Rail project to co-sponsor.
Unfortunately, the eradication of Northern Powerhouse Rail will have a detrimental effect on my constituents who use Greenfield station. Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) about the Transport for the North board meeting today, I believe that TfN has put out a statement proposing a process of mediation, which would involve investigating potential local financial contributions to get the much-needed new line via Bradford. Will the Minister meet the leaders of the north to discuss that?
Last Thursday, the day on which the integrated rail plan was announced to the House, I met many board members of Transport for the North to discuss the plans. We are keen to continue to work with members of the board and with Transport for the North itself, although it is important to say that the integrated rail plan process has now concluded, as has the spending review. If local funding is brought forward, we will certainly look at that, but the Government’s plan has now been published.
Last week’s announcement, a centralised decision from the Department for Transport, effectively scrapped not merely the high-speed line from Sheffield to London, but the high-speed lines from Leeds to Sheffield, from Sheffield to Birmingham, and from Sheffield to Manchester. Is it not the case that, because Transport for the North disagreed with those decisions, the Minister has effectively switched it on to Zoom? He can sit in his office, he can see that it is there, but with the mute button on, he does not have to listen to its advice.
Transport for the North has never been a delivery body, it is not a delivery body, and it is not becoming a delivery body. Opposition Members seem to get hot under the collar about these technicalities when in actual fact, we are getting on with electrification. The midland main line electrification will deliver significant benefits sooner than anticipated. I gently remind the Opposition that in the 13 years of the last Labour Government, they managed to electrify only 63 miles, compared with the 1,100 miles already electrified under this Government.
The Minister will be aware that a lot of the north is further north than York. In the north-east, there is political consensus and support from business and Transport for the North for the reopening of the Leamside line to get extra capacity on the east coast main line, which is needed. That is clearly being ignored. Can the Minister tell me where that project lies, or will it just be shelved and forgotten about? I urge him to stop trying to con people in the north by giving pots of money out to fantasists’ projects such as the railway line up to Consett, which will cost £640 million. I would rather have the money concentrated and spent on transport, and not on just backing consultants.
The right hon. Gentleman again makes a compelling case for the Leamside line. Many colleagues across the House, and many of the regional stakeholders in the north-east that I talk to, continue to make that case. It is not funded as part of the integrated rail plan. However, the Department for Transport is keen to continue working with local stakeholders to see how it could be delivered. I remind him, though, that within the £96 billion there is £3.5 billion for improvements to the east coast main line, which will significantly reduce journey times from the north-east of England down south.
However much the Minister blusters, he cannot get away from the fact that this is an £18 billion cut to the capital programme and a centralisation of the investment decision. The basis that the Minister and the Secretary of State gave for the change in the project and the cut was that it would take until the 2040s to achieve the expenditure of that extra £18 billion. Why, under the Government’s control, will they build and invest at a slower rate than the Victorians did using pickaxes and shovels?
The hon. Gentleman is going to see over the coming years an acceleration of investment in the midlands and the north and a rebalancing of some of our investment programmes. Northern Powerhouse Rail will deliver two brand-new lines, from Warrington to Manchester and from Manchester to Marsden. In addition, we have a transformational upgrade of the trans-Pennine route far beyond anything committed to that route by any previous Government.
I pay tribute to my constituent in Little Neston, Councillor Louise Gittins, who has been doing a sterling job as the interim chair of Transport for the North. Judging by some of the comments from Conservative Members, she has been doing her job a little too well. She, like me, has been campaigning for a half-hourly passenger service on the Wrexham to Bidston line, which we had hoped to see in place by now. Can the Minister guarantee that we will see that delivered next year?
I am sure that the rail Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), will have heard the hon. Gentleman’s pitch on behalf of his constituents. Of course, we are progressing with improvements to deliver the western leg of HS2 as early as possible. We committed in the Queen’s Speech to bringing forward a Bill in this parliamentary Session. That will deliver significant benefits to Cheshire, particularly realising the Crewe hub and the Crewe northern connection visions.
Make no mistake about it, the north-east was abandoned last week by the announcement from this Government—cut off completely from the high-speed rail network. I urge the Minister to actually visit Northumberland; if he looks at the map, it is a little bit above Newcastle, just below the Scottish border. The Government have announced on more than 60 occasions that there would be this “Crossrail in the north”, so I am right to be concerned that the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne line in my constituency, which runs from Ashington, through Bedlington, up to the Metro, might be considered for withdrawal. Will the Minister guarantee from the Dispatch Box today, Wednesday 24 November, that investment in the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne line will continue in earnest, and that there will be no reduction in the original plans?
Dear oh dear, Madam Deputy Speaker. We are getting on with investing and levelling up the north-east of England. We are reopening the Northumberland line; we already have new Azuma trains running on the east coast main line; we are spending £3.5 billion more on investment in the east coast main line; and, of course, the Pacers, which were allowed to rattle passengers to the core under Labour, have all been eradicated thanks to this Government. We will continue to invest in the north-east and deliver early benefits to passengers across that region.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. The integrated rail plan came as a bitter blow to the people of Merseyside. It will do almost nothing to improve connectivity, capacity or rail times, and it could end up costing our region millions of pounds due to disruption. It also does nothing to address the issue of spiralling rail fares, which are set to increase by almost 5% next year, pricing the poorest in our region out of rail travel altogether. Does the Minister agree that my constituents in Birkenhead have been badly let down by this Government?
No, I do not. I look forward to continuing to work with Mayor Rotheram and local stakeholders to ensure we deliver the transformational improvements to Liverpool that are committed to as part of the £96 billion, the biggest ever Government investment in rail in the midlands and the north.