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Midlands Rail Hub

Volume 825: debated on Tuesday 15 November 2022

Question

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the Outline Business Case of the Midlands Rail Hub.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing, I declare my interests in the register and note that I am co-chair of the Midlands Engine.

My Lords, the Department for Transport received the outline business case for the Midlands Rail Hub on 14 November. We now need to assess the contribution of the scheme to the Government’s objectives, value for taxpayer money and affordability, considering the forthcoming Autumn Statement. I expect that decisions on how to proceed with the Midlands Rail Hub will be made in 2023.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. Aside from the clear economic benefits of the scheme, what struck me about the rail hub is that all stakeholders in the Midlands have come together to support it. What additional assurances can the Minister give me that the Government will give the project their full support, including Midlands Rail Hub east to Leicester? Can the Minister also give some assurance on funding the quick win in the business case of Snow Hill platform 4, which could be delivered by 2025, allowing us to take a new train from Birmingham’s business district direct to London?

My Lords, as I said, we received the outline business case yesterday, so I hope the noble Lord will forgive me in that, clearly, we need to review what it says and what quick wins or otherwise there may be. I am aware that the reinstatement of platform 4 at Snow Hill station in central Birmingham is a key part of the work. It could be a quick win but no funding decisions have been made, and we expect that works will be delivered within the RNEP.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that this scheme, like many other railway schemes, has been assessed to death? As long ago as the early part of this year, the department promised that contracts would be let in January 2023. Is this not just another excuse to delay a vital project which many of us in the West Midlands are looking forward to seeing started?

I do not accept that. It is right that the Government go through the business case process. As the noble Lord will know, the outline business case is very important in ensuring that the project can be considered alongside other rail projects and then, potentially, put into the RNEP.

My Lords, Britain invented and developed the world’s first railways, and we were authors of amazing feats of engineering across the world, but the World Economic Forum now places us 29th in the global rankings for the quality of our railways. The Government’s endless U-turns on major rail projects—HS2, the integrated rail plan, the Oxford to Cambridge link, the trans-Pennine and many more—have wasted millions, even billions, of pounds. Can the Minister give us an assurance that on Thursday, the Chancellor will not be picking on capital investment in this carbon-reducing form of public transport as a way of saving money following the recent disasters affecting the economy?

Obviously, I cannot pre-empt what the Chancellor is going to say on Thursday; what I can say is that the Government are committing and will commit to record investment in our rail services and infrastructure. Projects such as the integrated rail plan are incredibly important—they unlock potential—and the Government are committed to delivering it. We will be looking at the options for high-speed to Leeds, and we intend to publish the terms of reference for the route study to Leeds after the Autumn Statement

My Lords, I understand that the noble Baroness cannot anticipate Thursday’s announcement, but does she accept that the rail links between the West Midlands and the east Midlands are very slow, often packed and in urgent need of development and reconstruction? Will she at least, in the light of Thursday’s announcement, look sympathetically at the prime needs of the Midlands for future rail investment?

I am very grateful to the noble Lord for highlighting that. The three main elements of the Midlands Rail Hub—west, central and east—would improve connectivity within the Midlands. It is right that we look at the outline business case that has so recently been submitted, and decisions will be made in due course.

Does my noble friend happen to have any figures to hand which would show the extent of the Government’s investment in the railways to which she referred earlier?

I will happily write to my noble friend with all the details of our recent investments and, in due course, we will set out our investments for the future.

I hope the Minister will send a copy of that letter to me as well. Thank you.

Can the Government update the House on the timescale for improvements to the Wolverhampton to Shrewsbury line, including electrification, which a Transport Minister in the Commons gave a commitment nearly eight months ago to look at “as soon as possible.” If, for this Government, “as soon as possible” is apparently not within the next eight months, within what timescale is it?

As the noble Lord knows, there are a number of planned investments across the country, and it is right that the Government take time to review them to ensure that they meet the needs of the post-pandemic travelling public. That is why we will be reviewing the RNEP. There will be a timeline for publication after the Autumn Statement.

My Lords, I congratulate the co-chairs of Midlands Engine, the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, and Sir John Peace, who are doing a magnificent job. Is it right that the Treasury delay the funding of essential projects when a positive business case has already been made by all the participants?

Unfortunately, there is never sufficient funding for all the positive business cases the department has in its filing cabinet at any given time. That is why priorities must be considered. We must look at the strategic case and think about how the different enhancements work together. But where positive business cases are submitted to the department, we of course look at them with great interest.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Midlands Rail Hub, which is designed to dramatically improve the east-west and local and regional services in the area, which are pretty awful at the moment, should be a much greater priority than getting to London a few minutes faster by HS2?

I agree with the noble Lord that the Midlands Rail Hub would indeed do some of the things he outlines. He may also be interested to know that it would improve the integration to HS2 and therefore make HS2 ever more valued.