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Railways: Northern England

Volume 783: debated on Monday 10 July 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what support they are giving to connecting communities and economies in the north of England by the re-opening of railway lines.

My Lords, the Government are investing billions of pounds across the north of England in order better to connect communities and build the northern powerhouse. In the spirit of devolution, it is of course for local enterprise partnerships and local transport authorities to decide whether the reopening of a railway line is the best way to address the economic needs of their area and to secure appropriate funding, including that made available by the Government.

My Lords, there are ambitious plans for substantial investment in new high-speed railway lines in the north of England, but the Minister will be aware that many towns have been missed off the network. There are missing links that need to be put back in to provide an ordinary service in some of those towns—none more so than the Colne-Skipton link, which can provide not only a local service of benefit to local people in the region but a new strategic east-west route between the west coast and the east coast, particularly for freight. There has been a 20-year campaign for this, with half-promises from government at all levels. Will the Government step in and put some oomph behind this proposal?

I can see that that position has widespread support. First, I thank the noble Lord for his interest and considerable advocacy on this subject. We also pay tribute to the work of the Skipton-East Lancashire Rail Action Partnership—that well-known group—in raising the profile on the case for reopening this line. Local partners share a desire to improve connectivity across the Pennines. Their recent connectivity report suggested that there may be economic benefits in doing so, and they will be actively involved in the Transport for the North corridor study to consider potential solutions. Through growth deals, we have provided the north of England with almost £3.5 billion of local growth funding, which is supporting local authorities and LEPs to deliver more than 150 local transport schemes.

My Lords, my noble friend will be aware of the North York Moors railway line, of which I have the privilege to be honorary president. The fact that the line was able to access the national rail line to Whitby has opened up tourism, and the number of people visiting the railway has risen phenomenally. Will my noble friend share this with his ministerial colleagues to look favourably on Heritage Lottery Fund grant applications for such lines in the future?

I am sure there is considerable benefit to the North Yorkshire communities in the reopening and additional service provision on these lines, and I am happy to support my noble friend’s assertion.

My Lords, the Minister is aware that one of the key facets of the northern powerhouse is rail connectivity. Two years ago, plans were announced by the Government for the electrification of the line from Manchester to Leeds. Reports over the weekend have suggested that those plans have been shelved. Is that correct?

My Lords, we will be announcing our proposals for that line in due course, but let me just say that we are investing more than £1 billion in the great north rail project, which is transforming rail travel for passengers across the north up to 2019 as part of our over £13 billion investment in rail infrastructure.

My Lords, opening lines is one thing; opening stations on lines that are already open ought to be considerably easier. There was the line between Halifax and Huddersfield reopening in 2000. A railway station was built in Brighouse, and we were promised one for Elland, but we are still waiting—17 years later. Once the business case has really been made, and expectations have been created, how long does the Minister think that folk should have to wait for this station?

Clearly, the provision of additional stations on important local lines is vital, but I shall have to write to the noble Lord on the detailed business case for that particular station.

My Lords, no doubt the Minister has a list of all the potential local railways, so may I ask him to look at the case for the Penrith to Keswick line? It is one of the examples of where Beeching vandalised this country, so let us put that right.

The noble Lord is right: I do have an extensive list. However, I do not see that one on it, but I will write to him on that particular case.

My Lords, I remind the House of my railway interests in the register. The Minister will be struck by the support that exists all over the House for the reopening of rural railway lines. Can I draw his attention to the report by the Association of Train Operating Companies in 2009, which looked at communities with more than 15,000 inhabitants, and at the potential for reopening services where they used to exist? There were 14 lines of the highest priority where there was either an existing freight line or a disused line. No Government have yet acted on that report, so will the Minister now please have a look at it?

I will certainly have a look at the report, now that the noble Lord has drawn my attention to it.

My Lords, the Minister is well aware of the general feeling in the country that HS2 is a waste of time. Can I urge him to review it urgently because, if common sense prevails and that silly scheme is scrapped, there will be plenty of money for all these very sensible schemes in the north?

I am, of course, aware of the noble Lord’s passionate opposition to HS2. However, I am afraid that on this one occasion I will have to disagree with him, because I think it is an excellent scheme and we will be going ahead with it.

Will the Minister now answer the direct question of my noble friend Lord Clark about the reports in the press? Are they true or not?

No, they are not true. We are re-evaluating the scheme, but we will be going ahead with it and we will publish our proposals in detail on it in due course.