‘Scaled-back’ rail plans fail to please Tory MPs

·4-min read
Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to the Network Rail hub at Gascoigne Wood, near Selby, North Yorkshire, to coincide with the announcement of the Integrated Rail Plan (Ian Forsyth/PA) (PA Wire)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to the Network Rail hub at Gascoigne Wood, near Selby, North Yorkshire, to coincide with the announcement of the Integrated Rail Plan (Ian Forsyth/PA) (PA Wire)

Rail plans announced by the Government that have been described as scaled back from original ambitions have prompted a litany of complaints from Conservative backbenchers – but each with their own personal issues.

The Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) was unveiled on Thursday and while the £96 billion committed to rail links was welcomed, many found the plans were lacking in exactly the improvements they wanted to see.

Huw Merriman the Conservative chairman of the Commons Transport Select Committee, accused the Prime Minister of “selling perpetual sunlight” but delivering “moonlight” instead.

Conservative MP Huw Merriman (Victoria Jones/PA) (PA Archive)
Conservative MP Huw Merriman (Victoria Jones/PA) (PA Archive)

But Downing Street insisted the plans represented a balance between not wasting taxpayers’ money while also making the “biggest ever public investment in our rail network”.

Philip Davies, the Tory MP for Shipley, said it was “hugely disappointing” that Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) was being scaled back.

However, he had no qualms over the scrapping of the eastern leg of HS2 which he has long campaigned against.

Mr Davies said the focus of council leaders on the high-speed project had led to the downscaling of NPR.

He said: “The halving of journey times between Leeds and Bradford is extremely welcome, but naturally it is hugely disappointing that Northern Powerhouse Rail is being scaled back and Bradford is not being given a station stop, which is a massively missed opportunity – something I made clear in a meeting with the Prime Minister and Grant Shapps yesterday.”

He added: “A united voice in the North opposing HS2 throughout and instead insisting on a bells and whistles Northern Powerhouse Rail scheme across the North probably would have delivered everything we could ever have wanted in the Bradford district.”

Kevin Hollinrake, Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton, told the PA news agency the journey times that were originally promised by the HS2 project would not come to pass.

He praised the quicker delivery and recognised the vast sums being spent, but said: “I always made the case that HS2, for me, wasn’t about getting to London.

“It was really inter-regional journeys, particularly some of those journeys that take so long, York and Birmingham or Leeds and Birmingham, these kinds of journeys, and there’s not a massive improvement in those journey times, so that’s a big disappointment.”

Keighley’s Robbie Moore, a Conservative Red Wall MP who was elected in 2019, was one of the first to criticise the announcement on Thursday.

He said he was “bitterly disappointed”, and that while he praised faster upgrades and contactless ticketing, he added: “We need to do much, much more. Economic prosperity relies on good transport links and today the Bradford district has been completely short-changed.”

He said his constituency was one of the most socially deprived parts of the UK and called for the Government to review the plans.

Boris Johnson during a visit to the Network Rail hub at Gascoigne Wood, near Selby, North Yorkshire (Ian Forsyth/PA) (PA Wire)
Boris Johnson during a visit to the Network Rail hub at Gascoigne Wood, near Selby, North Yorkshire (Ian Forsyth/PA) (PA Wire)

But others were disappointed HS2 had not been scrapped in full.

Craig Tracey, Conservative MP for North Warwickshire, said it was “really difficult” to share the optimism in the announcement because it was “very disappointing to hear that HS2 will not be scrapped in full”.

Gainsborough Tory MP Sir Edward Leigh said: “HS2 was always a white elephant, but as far as the east coast is now concerned it is a white elephant missing a leg.

“We were promised it would relieve congestion on the East Coast Mainline because it was going to go to Leeds.”

He also called for a through-train between Grimsby and London running through his constituency, adding: “Just saying we are working on it is not enough. We have had these promises again and again, am I going to be standing up here when I am 93 in 2043 still asking for my train?”

Not all Conservative MPs were let down by the plans, however, as Rother Valley’s Alex Stafford told the Commons: “On behalf of the people of Rother Valley, I thank the Government for getting rid of the eastern leg of the 2b arm. It was a damaging and destructive thing for South Yorkshire that would have given us no benefits.”

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

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