Did Boris Johnson break his promises on rail plans?

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Critics have accused Boris Johnson of betraying the North and the Midlands by scaling back rail plans designed to boost growth in the region.

But the Prime Minister has dismissed allegations of broken promises as “total rubbish”.

Here the PA news agency looks at the claims.

– What has the PM promised in the past?

Back in July 2019, Downing Street confirmed a new trans-Pennine route between Manchester and Leeds to “unleash regional growth”.

This, it said, would be the “first step” of new intercity rail routes.

Mr Johnson said: “I want to be the Prime Minister who does with Northern Powerhouse Rail what we did for Crossrail in London.

“And today I am going to deliver on my commitment to that vision with a pledge to fund the Leeds to Manchester route.”

The Conservative Party also promised in its 2019 manifesto that it would “build Northern Powerhouse Rail between Leeds and Manchester”.

And last year, Mr Johnson gave the go-ahead for HS2, with plans for the high-speed rail to run all the way to Leeds.

– What are the Government’s new rail proposals?

Things have changed under the new £96 billion Integrated Rail Plan (IRP).

There was anger today in the Commons as Transport Secretary Grant Shapps confirmed that the eastern leg of HS2 was being scrapped, while the planned Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) was being curtailed.

The key points of the IRP are:

– NPR between Leeds and Manchester will be a combination of new track and enhancements to existing infrastructure.

– The extension of HS2 from the East Midlands to Leeds has been scrapped. HS2 trains will instead run on existing lines.

– Plans to fully electrify the Midland Main Line and the trans-Pennine route, and upgrade the East Coast Main Line.

– What do his critics say?

Labour said the package unveiled in the House of Commons abandoned previous assurances given on the extension of HS2 and NPR.

The party’s leader, Sir Keir Starmer, accused Mr Johnson of having “let down everybody in the North”.

Louise Gittins, interim chairwoman of Transport for the North, described the announcement as “woefully inadequate”.

And the plan was strongly criticised by the Conservative chairman of the Commons Transport Committee, Huw Merriman, who accused Mr Johnson of going back on past promises.

“The Prime Minister promised that HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail was not an either/or option and those in Leeds and Bradford may be forgiven for viewing it today as neither,” he said.

“This is the danger in selling perpetual sunlight and leaving the others to explain the arrival of moonlight.”

(PA Graphics)

– How does Mr Johnson counter this?

On a visit to a Network Rail logistics hub near Selby, North Yorkshire, Mr Johnson dismissed the charges of broken promises as “total rubbish”, insisting the Government would deliver on them “eventually”.

“Of course, there are going to be people who always want everything at once,” he said.

“And there are lots of people who’ll say, ‘look, what we should do is carve huge new railways through virgin territory, smashing through unspoilt countryside and villages, and do it all at once’.

“The problem with that is those extra high-speed lines take decades and they don’t deliver the commuter benefits that I’m talking about. We will eventually do them.”

The Prime Minister said the IRP would double capacity between Manchester and Leeds and treble that between Manchester and Liverpool.

And the Department for Transport said the improvements to the Leeds-Manchester line would cut journey times from 55 minutes to 33 minutes – just four minutes slower than they would have been with NPR – while costing £18 billion less.

The Government insists the IRP will deliver similar or even greater benefits than previously planned, and it will do so quicker and cheaper.

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