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Integrated Rail Plan

Volume 704: debated on Monday 29 November 2021

7. What assessment he has made of the implications for his polices on levelling up of the integrated rail plan. (904409)

As the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien), pointed out in response to the previous question, levelling up involves every Department working in a co-ordinated fashion to advance a series of policies that spread prosperity more equally across the country. The £96 billion integrated rail plan was the single largest rail investment ever made by a UK Government.

There was broad agreement around Lord Heseltine’s 2012 report that investment in rail infrastructure is central to a levelling-up agenda. The integrated rail plan really only delivers an upgrade to the existing lines, axing the eastern leg of High Speed 2 and the new high-speed Northern Powerhouse Rail line. How can the Secretary of State do his job now that the integrated rail plan has derailed progress in the north? With less than three weeks of parliamentary time left in 2021, when will he publish his long-promised levelling-up White Paper, which is due this year?

The hon. Lady makes two very good points. On the first, if we look at the integrated rail plan, we can see that there are significant benefits for communities across the north of England. Indeed, travel time between Leeds and Bradford is reduced from, in some cases, just over 20 minutes to 12 minutes. That is a real, material benefit for citizens of both great cities. It is also the case that the potential for further work in making sure that we can have a more effective mass transit system in West Yorkshire is inherent in the approach that was outlined by my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary. More broadly, I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her anxiety to see the broader set of plans that we are keen to bring forward shared with the House, and we will do so at the earliest possible opportunity.

What my constituents in Rossendale and Darwen would have liked to have seen in the integrated rail plan was a rail line from Manchester to Rawtenstall, but they did not see it. With that in mind and with our shared ambition to level up Rossendale and east Lancashire, will my right hon. Friend look favourably on our levelling-up bid, which will have transport and other schemes in it, when it comes forward?

My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. East Lancashire and its success must be at the heart of a successful approach towards levelling up. Whether it is Rawtenstall, Bacup, Blackburn or Burnley, we need to ensure that all communities in east Lancashire feel they have the right investment not just in transport, but in skills, schools, and ensuring that streets are safe and communities can take back control.

HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail were never just about train lines and journey speeds; they are about regeneration opportunities. In the case of the cancelled eastern leg, 38,000 homes were planned on the back of that line, which now will not happen. Some £38 billion of economic growth in Bradford, reliant on Northern Powerhouse Rail, has been cancelled. Local government leaders in the north are united in their opposition to the £18 billion reduction in rail investment plans. Is the north not once again being let down rather than levelled up?

I would contest that. Although the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that the integrated rail plan creates opportunities for broader regeneration, it is important to recognise that transport is not the only tool that can promote regeneration across the midlands and the north of England. The work that Homes England does in making sure we can unlock the potential of brownfield sites for regeneration is critically important. I appreciate the disappointment felt by communities in Bradford and elsewhere, but there is more to come, both in transport and other investment, that will ensure that we meet our shared objectives to spread opportunity more equally across the geography of England.

What conversations is my right hon. Friend having with the Department for Transport with regard to restoring your railway funding, in particular for the reopening of the Ivanhoe line in North West Leicestershire, where we currently have no railway stations at all?

I was unaware that there were no railway stations in North West Leicestershire. For the citizens of Ashby de la Zouch and other communities, transport connectivity is as important as it is for citizens elsewhere. I will look at whether the Ivanhoe line can secure the investment it needs. I know my hon. Friend is a white knight for rail investment. North West Leicestershire could have no surer champion in the jousting required to secure the investment needed. [Hon. Members: “Groan.”]