Boris Johnson: North will ‘benefit massively’ from rail upgrades

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Northern England will “benefit massively” from rail upgrades, Boris Johnson insisted amid rising anger over plans to axe key schemes.

The Government is expected to announce on Thursday that the eastern leg of HS2 will be scrapped between the East Midlands and Leeds.

There is also frustration that improvements to east-west connections across the North, known as Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), are likely to involve upgrades to existing infrastructure rather than a new line between Manchester and Leeds.

At Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer asked Mr Johnson if he “stands by that promise” to develop the whole of HS2.

Mr Johnson replied: “I’m afraid (he) is in danger of getting hoist on his own petard.

“He needs to wait and see what we announce tomorrow, because I think he will find that the people of the North East, of the North West, the people of Leeds, the people of Nottingham, the people of Sheffield, the people of the whole of the North West and the North East of this country will benefit massively from what we are going to announce.”

(PA Graphics)

Pressed by Tory backbench MP Jake Berry over whether voters were right to take him “at his word” over past promises about NPR, the Prime Minister responded: “Yes. He should wait and see what is unveiled tomorrow when he may learn something to his advantage.”

The measures will be announced by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps when he publishes the Integrated Rail Plan on Thursday.

The Department for Transport is expected to argue that HS2 trains will still serve Leeds, but putting them on mainline tracks north of the East Midlands rather than on high-speed lines will save tens of billions of pounds.

It will insist its plan to invest £96 billion on the existing network will deliver benefits faster and more cost-effectively.

Speaking at Okehampton station in Devon on Wednesday, Mr Shapps told the PA news agency: “(People in the North) should definitely feel optimistic.

“Not only are we going to spend a huge amount of money doing this, we are going to deliver it decades before it would have otherwise happened.”

Mr Shapps said that if he was Transport Secretary 15 years ago with responsibility for HS2, then “I would have started in the North and moved south, I think that would have made sense”.

He went on: “The Northern Powerhouse Rail, the Midlands Connect – all of those did not exist when HS2 was first mooted, but we are where we are and it’s being built and we need to make sure we connect it all up and that’s what the Integrated Rail Plan intends to achieve.”

But Mick Whelan, general secretary of train drivers’ union Aslef, accused the Government of using “smoke and mirrors” while breaking its promises.

He said: “HS2 was meant to be a world-beater, and put Britain, the country which gave the railway to the world, back on the industrial and economic map. Instead, the Tories are letting us down.

“This Government is a government of broken promises. It has announced Northern Powerhouse Rail an incredible 60 times – and I know because we’ve counted – and now it puts the project in the bin.”

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