Tony Berkeley’s speech on the Integrated Rail Plan

On 16th December 2021, Tony Berkeley initiated a debate in the House of Lords on the Integrated Rail Plan: here is his speech. (Hansard here.)

Lord Berkeley
My Lords, I am pleased that we can have a quick debate about the integrated rail plan this afternoon. My question relates to the capacity and regional capability contained in the plan, particularly for the east-west areas of the north and the Midlands.

I am grateful to the Minister for arranging a Zoom call this morning with Andrew Stephenson MP, the Minister for HS2. We had a useful discussion. I now realise that the IRP appears to be a cut-down version of HS2, with some welcome electrification on the Midland main line and the trans-Pennine route, but which appears not to deal with the capacity issues and the priorities for east-west connectivity, particularly for Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Hull.

Therefore, it did not really surprise me when I received a copy of the letter sent from the chair of Transport for the North to the Secretary of State, dated 26 November. It starts:

“I am writing on behalf of the Transport for the North Board to express our collective disappointment and dismay at the inadequacy of the Integrated Rail Plan; the plan as proposed is unacceptable to the North.”

That is a fairly strong statement from a regional authority. One of the issues it goes into is that the plan fails to deal with infrastructure constraints, particularly around Leeds and Manchester, saying that

“the plan is the wrong solution for the whole of the North and does not deliver the long-term transformation required to level up the North’s economy”.

I shall not go on, as it is a very long letter, but it also mentions that Bradford is left out, despite being the seventh largest local authority area in England by population.

I share Transport for the North’s vision to improve the network and make it as good as the network we have in the south-east around London. One can compare against the routes through the capital, Thameslink and Crossrail, once it opens, which serve dozens of routes on each side for seamless journeys. I would give the time of all those journeys, but I do not think we know them. That is what is particularly missing in terms of capacity across the Pennines and east-west services, including from Birmingham to Derby and Nottingham. In particular, there is a lack of not just through services but local services, connecting many of the smaller towns on the way. I do not know whether that matters to the Government, but it should.

I have one particular concern about Manchester, where the plan is to expand the existing planned HS2 station, so that all trains coming on the line reverse before going across the Pennines to Leeds. On page 65, the report justifies having terminus stations by saying that there are many in Europe, for example in Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Zürich, Milan and Rome. It fails to say that all those stations were built probably over 100 years ago, when tunnels were less easy to build. It is also wrong, because the German Government and the German railway company are actually building a through tunnel underneath Stuttgart station. What the Government are proposing is old-fashioned—so be it.

As I said, I welcome the electrification of the Midland main line and the trans-Pennine route. That is a good idea but I point out that a small piece of the HS2 line now planned between Derby and Birmingham is, I think, costed at £11 billion when it would have cost just £2.5 billion to electrify the existing line. The biggest missing issue is that there is nothing in the report about improving the many secondary lines and services in the regions. It is good that Leeds is promised a metro service but I wonder how many decades that will take to come. It is a very good idea, if and when it happens.

On the costs, £96 billion is quoted in the document; it appears that the Government are including HS2 and Network Rail costs in this. It is my calculation that HS2 phases 1 and 2a are going to cost £83 billion to complete. While that has come from whistleblowers and my own estimation, it leaves just £9 billion for the rest of the project, which I hope is wrong. I have to question how much money matters to the Treasury. Many noble Lords will have read an article in the Guardian—I think it was on Monday this week—which said that the Department for Transport was requiring all train operators to prepare plans to cut costs by at least 10%. That is quite critical at this time, when nobody really knows what the forecast of future passengers might be. Has it asked HS2 to do the same? That might be a good thing. With all this, there seems to be very little money left for upgrades, electrification and capacity enhancement because it is all going on HS2.

The other interesting thing is: who will be building and developing all these things? In a series of Written Answers that I received this week, it seems that: Network Rail will be told to upgrade existing lines with help from HS2 to get trains into Leeds; HS2 is going to be building phase 2A and bits in the West Midlands; and there may be a new line for Northern Powerhouse Rail—we are not quite sure where, but I think it stops somewhere at the summit of the Pennines. Where does Great British Railways come into this? Apparently, it has no responsibility for HS2, as I had it from another Written Question some time ago.

Who has the best track record? Network Rail has a very good one on electrification now. It has just completed the Werrington dive-under on the Doncaster line, which is a really good piece of work, if not so cost-effective—

Lord Adonis
If my noble friend will forgive me, does he think that its record on Great Western electrification is creditable to Network Rail? The costs are running at about four times the projection and it is taking three times as long as it was supposed to.

Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen
My Lords, this is only a one-hour debate and we are quite short on time.

Lord Berkeley
Briefly, Great Western electrification finished about five years ago and Network Rail has improved things as a result. That was true at that time but things have got a lot better.

What is missing from this document is a real acceptance by the Department for Transport that the decision-making on strategies and routes, priorities and deliveries should rest with the northern powerhouse/Transport for the North members—the local authorities which know their areas. That is devolution. I am afraid that the document has demonstrated the department’s inability to plan and deliver to time and budget. It should give TfN a chance.

If the Government were honest in wanting to improve the rail network in the north and Midlands, they would cancel the bits of HS2 that they are funding and put all the remaining funds included in the IPR into not only giving much-improved capacity and speed on the two east-west axes—Liverpool, Manchester, Bradford, Leeds and Hull, and Sheffield, Birmingham, Derby and Nottingham—but improving the many secondary lines in each area. So many people rely on those for their daily commuting to school, colleges, work, levelling-up and everything else.

I fear that this Department for Transport will result only in nothing happening for the next few years and I hope that it not the case. I hope that the Minister, when she replies, will say that I have got it completely wrong that it does not matter that Bradford is only connected to the south and not east-west. I hope she will sit down with her colleagues in the department and northern powerhouse people and come up with a solution that is acceptable to all.

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