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Network North

Volume 836: debated on Wednesday 14 February 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what proportion of the £36 billion transport investment plan ‘Network North’ will be allocated to schemes outside the Northern region.

My Lords, £36 billion of funding redirected from HS2 will see improvements to transport throughout the country. Every penny of the £19.8 billion committed to the northern leg of HS2 will be reinvested in the north, every penny of the £9.6 billion committed to the Midlands leg will be reinvested in the Midlands, and the £6.5 billion saved through our rescoped approach at Euston will be spread across every other region of the country.

My Lords, the Minister knows that this document, Network North, is supposed to compensate the Midlands and the north for the scrapping of HS2 north of Birmingham by providing lots of other rail schemes more quickly. Will the Minister publish a list of these new schemes, which does not seem to be available at the moment, with estimates of the cost of each one and when they are likely to be operational? Will he tell us how he calculates the £36 billion that he says will be saved by the cancellation of HS2 north, bearing in mind that millions—possibly billions—have already been spent and now wasted? Finally, how can a document called Network North include among its proposals the promise of a new station at Tavistock?

I am very grateful to the noble Lord for his Question. I will have to look at his point on the calculation and come back with an answer; I do not have the figures broken down in front of me. Network North will deliver a wide range of rail infrastructure investments across the country. While I have already given the exact figures for what we will spend on the northern leg of HS2 and have committed to the Midlands leg, we are also building a brand-new station and line connection in Bradford, with journey times reduced from 56 to 30 minutes to Manchester via Huddersfield. We are better connecting major cities across the north, with more frequent trains, increased capacity and faster journeys, expanding the network. We will upgrade connections between Manchester and Sheffield, Leeds and Sheffield, Leeds and Hull, and Hull and Sheffield. We will fully fund the Midlands rail hub, increasing investment to £1.75 billion and connecting more than 50 stations. We will upgrade the rail links between Newark and Nottingham, halving journey times between Nottingham and Leeds. I could go on, but I am very happy to write to the noble Lord with more detail.

My Lords, I was pleased to see, towards the end of the Network North report, mention of the A75 and the A77 in Scotland. Those are very important roads for Northern Ireland travellers going to England and Glasgow. Can the Minister update us on that, because it is important for United Kingdom connectivity?

Scotland will benefit from funding to deliver targeted improvements on the A75 between Gretna and Stranraer, which is one of the main routes from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland via the Cairnryan ferry. The UK Government have committed to providing £8 million development funding to the Scottish Government for a detailed feasibility study to develop options to improve the A75, and made it a priority action in our response to the Union Connectivity Review of 7 December last year. Additionally, as part of the announcements in Network North on 4 October, the UK Government have committed to provide funding to deliver targeted improvements to the A75, pending a business case being submitted by the Scottish Government.

My Lords, I remind the House that, when HS2 was cancelled, the Prime Minister said that,

“we’ll reinvest every single penny, £36 billion, into hundreds of transport projects in the North”.

and the Midlands. Yet the Minister’s predecessor, the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, sent us a letter telling us that some of the money, £8.4 billion, would be spent on pothole alleviation across the country, including in such great northern counties as Wiltshire, and that only 31 of 70 road schemes that would be given the go-ahead were in the north and Midlands.

Following on from my noble friend Lord Grocott’s Question, will the Minister write to me with a list of the business cases for new public transport investment that have been presented to the Treasury since this announcement was made in October? How many of these business cases have been approved? I think that a lot would be. On this side of the House, many of us believe that the Government are holding back public investment so that they can justify tax cuts within their fiscal rules.

I will be very happy to write to the noble Lord and give him an explanation of where the money is going. The Prime Minister said:

“Every penny of the £19.8 billion committed to the Northern leg of HS2 will be reinvested in the North; every penny of the £9.6 billion committed to the Midlands leg will be reinvested in the Midlands; and the full £6.5 billion saved through our rescoped approach at Euston will be spread across every other region in the country”.

My Lords, on 20 November the Minister wrote to us explaining how £8.3 billion—already down from the £8.4 billion specified in the letter from the noble Baroness, Lady Vere—would be divided up among local authorities across Britain for use on road projects. A third of that money is going to local authorities in the south of England. Can the Minister explain to us whether, in future allocations, a third of that money will go to the south of England? Can he explain why no money at all is going to Wales? The Government specified that HS2 would be of great benefit to Wales for our links with the north of England. Now that those links will never be created, Wales is at a disadvantage as a result.

I think the noble Baroness must have missed the fact that £1 billion is being spent on improving the north Wales line through electrification. In November we announced the £8.3 billion of truly additional highways maintenance funding over the period from 2023 to 2034. The next thing is for local road surfacing and wider highways maintenance. That covers £3.3 billion for local authorities in the north-west, the north-east, Yorkshire and the Humber, £2.2 billion for those in the West Midlands and the east Midlands, and £2.8 billion for those in the east of England, the south-east, the south-west and London.

My Lords, I welcome the investment in the north and the Midlands, particularly the improvement between Newark and Nottingham. I am very aware that East Anglia is not quite in the north of England but, if I may make a plug, can my noble friend the Minister give us an update on any extra funding or resources going into improving rail services in my home county of Cambridgeshire?

My Lords, the Ely area capacity enhancement programme comprises a series of infrastructure upgrades to increase rail freight and passenger capacity in the east of England. Ely is a key hub on the cross-country freight route from Felixstowe to the north Midlands. The other, via London, is at operating capacity. Existing infrastructure in the area and its layout limit the ability to operate additional passenger and freight services. The approximate cost for full delivery of the programme would be £550 million. The scheme would increase freight capacity into the Port of Felixstowe from 36 to 42 trains per day, but the good news is that this would be expected to remove 98,000 lorry journeys per year from the roads.

I am glad to hear that the Minister is interested in removing lorries from roads. The major problem on the trans-Pennine links is lack of rail capacity. The M62 is jammed with trucks carrying containers between the east and west coasts. Unless there are new rail paths across the Pennines, nothing will change. Are there any plans to reinstitute the idea of a new rail line between Manchester and Leeds?

That is something I am not aware of at the moment, but I will certainly look into it and come back to the noble Lord.