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DfT cuts to HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail were unjustified, IRP inquiry finds

The Government decision not to invest in railway improvements in the north of England will not help the push to increase Stainless steel consumption.

The Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) lacks sufficient evidence for the cuts to HS2 Eastern Leg and Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) and will not deliver its transformational promises to those who need it most, according to a new report from cross-party MPs.

The IRP was published by the Department for Transport (DfT) in November 2021 and officially cancelled the Eastern Branch of HS2, which would have seen it reach Leeds. It also severely scaled back NPR, which was intended to provide high-speed east-west connection between cities in the North and ease capacity constraints it is currently experiencing.

The Transport Select Committee carried out an inquiry into the IRP earlier this year, taking written and oral evidence from rail experts and stakeholders. It has today published its findings and has concluded that the government’s £96bn rail investment plan “will reduce the prospects of meeting ambitions for the North by limiting the vital capacity needed for growth”.

The committee is concerned that the decisions on how to spend the investment were not backed up by the fullest possible evidence.

Regarding HS2, it is demanding that the government publish a full benefit cost ratio (BCR) analysis for the HS2 Eastern leg by March 2023 to justify its decision to remove it. The report states: “It is concerning that the government would make a decision on such an important infrastructure project before having done the BCR calculations to fully understand and substantiate that decision. This is particularly so given previous BCR calculations suggested that the economic case for the Eastern leg was stronger than that for the Western leg.”

The IRP promised to spend £100M to find the best way to get HS2 trains to Leeds, but this has not yet commenced. The committee is asking the DfT to set out a timetable for the study by September as it is “urgently needed to demonstrate that the commitment made to Leeds for high speed connections will be fulfilled”.

It has also weighed in on the much-debated underground Manchester Piccadilly station, saying: “There is a need for a renewed, transparent conversation about the risks and benefits of the underground station option at Manchester Piccadilly. The possibility of significant land value being unlocked by the underground option – and therefore of local contributions to the scheme – should factor into these conversations.”

The committee says the NPR plan must also be reconsidered. The IRP presented three options for its construction, but decided on Option 1 – a shorter length of high-speed line and upgrades to existing line for the rest of the route. The Transport Select Committee’s report says that the government must carry out BCR analyses for Options 2 and 3, which propose building an entirely new high-speed line from Leeds to Manchester and a new station at Bradford. The report states: “Without having completed a full analysis of the wider economic impacts, it is difficult to see how the government has fully assessed the levelling-up agenda and the case for different NPR options.”

It continues: “By underserving the rail needs of the North of England it is letting down those who require change the most. Upgrading lines will undoubtedly bring modest benefits to rail services in the North and Midlands, but not to the transformative extent necessary to end regional imbalances.”

The report also asks the government to support the development of Leeds station by 2035 and reconsider the case for a new station at Bradford. It states: “The potential of Bradford as an engine room of the Northern Powerhouse may be squandered if it is not given opportunities to thrive through better connectivity […] Leaving such a large and dynamic city behind would undermine the project of levelling up the country.”

The Transport Select Committee has also questioned the government’s insistence that the IRP will deliver improved journey times at a lower cost and quicker, saying it has “received detailed evidence that cast doubt on the plausibility of the journey time reductions that are achievable under the plans to upgrade existing lines rather than build new ones”. It is asking the DfT to publish full technical appraisals to back up its claims.

The report also queries the government’s “fixation” on journey times, saying this “must not overshadow the issue of track capacity”. It suggests that the DfT commission a full independent assessment of the seat and track capacity offered by the IRP in comparison with previous plans for HS2 and the other options for NPR.

The committee also requests that the DfT publish a rail freight strategy that should include a detailed assessment of how the IRP will achieve greater capacity for and use of rail freight.

There is also concern about the disruption that the IRP’s plans will cause, and the committee has requested a detailed mitigation strategy, including plans for consultation with local communities and stakeholders.

Bradford Council leader Susan Hinchcliffe said: “We welcome the findings of the Transport Select Committee, which has done a thorough job at assessing the evidence and pinpointing shortcomings in the decision-making process.

“Bradford is Britain’s fifth largest local authority and UK City of Culture for 2025. We agree that the potential of Bradford to be a real engine for growth in the Northern Powerhouse risks being ‘squandered’ by the short-sighted decision to cancel the planned new station at St James Market, and the failure to make this part of a planned high-speed Northern Powerhouse Rail line running between Manchester and Leeds.

“This government has described levelling up as its central mission. We fully agree with the committee that ‘leaving such a large and dynamic city off the mainline would undermine the project of levelling up the country’.

“Independent analysis has shown that Bradford is Britain’s number one levelling up opportunity but as a major city our growth is hampered by an inadequate cul de sac railway station. We hope and expect the government will heed the committee’s advice and look again at our proposals for a new station in Bradford.

“Independent analysis shows our wider plans for a new station at St James Market would unlock a city centre regeneration area three times larger than Canary Wharf, deliver 28,000 jobs over a decade, and generate £30bn for the local economy over a decade.

“A new station would drive Bradford’s Clean Growth strategy, serve the government’s wider levelling up agenda and deliver sustainable growth across the north by enabling us to take tens of thousands of car journeys off the road per day.

“We stand ready to work constructively with government and the new prime minister, when they are in post, to deliver results that will make a transformative difference to the people who live here.”

ICE director of policy Chris Richards said: “This report reaffirms that the theory behind the IRP is sound: a £96bn pipeline of investment that, assuming all goes to plan, should provide better rail services in the Midlands and the North faster than previous options.

“But the underlying evidence to back up whether these plans are going to be delivered on time and on budget, and crucially with the right outcomes, is not there. This is why the ICE and the All Party Parliamentary Group for Infrastructure has launched a consultation seeking views and evidence on how delivery of the IRP can be accelerated and what principles are needed to guide decisions on investment.

“Public transport has a key role to play in achieving the UK’s long-term national objectives, notably rebalancing the economy to level up underperforming regions and transitioning to net zero. There is little time to lose in delivering the major strategic infrastructure projects needed to achieve those goals.”

Railway Industry Association North chair Justin Moss said: “RIA North welcomes the Transport Select Committee’s call to revisit the Integrated Rail Plan, to further consider the Northern cities that were excluded from the plans and the benefits of a connected North to the future economy. And we are happy to work with the Transport Select Committee to better understand how the enhanced connectivity related to the IRP increases investment, supports skills, and reduces carbon.

“However, we cannot afford this to be an excuse to delay the plans already committed in the IRP. Furthermore, alongside the IRP, we continue to call for the HS2 Eastern Leg and Northern Powerhouse Rail schemes be reinstated in full, as only by doing so will the full benefits of both schemes be realised, benefiting not just the North but the whole of the UK and its towns, cities and communities.”