Harrogate MP disappointed by Government's rail U-turn but hails £96bn investment as a 'big win' for passengers

Harrogate's MP has said as disappointing as today's Government announcement of the cancellation of its plans for an HS2 Eastern leg was, the end result was still a "big win" for rail passengers in the North with proposals that would deliver benefits ten years earlier than expected.

Thursday, 18th November 2021, 4:57 pm
HS2 derailed at Leeds - Harrogate MP Andrew Jones, who is currently co-chair of the Transport Across The North All Party Parliament Group, is disappointed by the Government's U-turn on a HS2 Eastern leg.

As the Government stood accused of not living up to its own 'levelling up' agenda, Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones told the Harrogate Advertiser the £96 billion package to overhaul inter-city links across the north and Midlands was a major investment which promised, he said, to maximise real benefits for passengers on a daily basis.

Mr Jones, who is currently co-chair of the Transport Across The North All Party Parliament Group, had called on the Government to deliver the HS2 Eastern leg in full as recently as September.

But, despite today's scrapping of plans to take the new high speed HS2 eastern line from London to Leeds with a new route from Warrington to Manchester ending at the "western border" of Yorkshire, the former rail minister said the new version of the Government's Integrated Rail Plan remained a "big win" for Yorkshire overall.

Amid a furious response from much of the North to the partial derailing of the planned railway line through the middle of the country, starting in London and heading to the north, former rail minister Mr Jones said: "It is a complex complex statement by the Government on rail investment.

"But the question for me was how quickly the schemes can be delivered, how we maximise the benefits.

"I asked about that in the House of Commons this morning. HS2 would not have reached Leeds until the 2040s.

"These proposals deliver benefits ten years earlier than that. That is good for the levelling up agenda, but especially positive for our environment.

Mr Jones continued: "My first impression is of the scale of the announcement. £96 billion in spending is a major investment.

"It is the largest rail investment ever made by any government. This is very positive.

"The next thing to jump out at me is how many changes there are to previously published plans.

"I have long been a vocal supporter of HS2 and was disappointed when I read the media stories that HS2 Eastern leg had been cancelled, but it turns out that the picture is more complex.

"Complex because parts of the original plan will happen, for example between the east and west midlands – but then an enhanced midland mainline would bring HS2 services to Sheffield and Leeds rather than an eastern leg of the HS2 line.

Mr Jones, who was a junior rail minister under Prime Minister Theresa May from November 2018 to July 2019, said: "The plan is 160 pages and has only been published a couple of hours, so the opportunity for people to read it has been very limited.

"From what we can see already, the plans deliver a range of benefits for the north – benefits in terms of new lines, increased capacity and improved journey times.

"In fact, the outputs are similar to the outputs of the previous plans but there are more benefits.

As Labour Party leader Keir Starmer accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of “letting down everyone in the north” after the axing of a promised high-speed railway between Manchester and Leeds, as well as the eastern leg of the HS2, Mr Jones said what was now being proposed would nevertheless be of substantial benefit to passengers.

Mr Jones said: "What we seem to be seeing is improved north-south journey times – although not as great an improvement as we would have seen with the HS2 eastern leg – alongside radically improved east-west services.

"This will mean investment for both the existing Transpennine line and the construction of a new fast line between Warrington, Manchester and Yorkshire.

"So we will receive a much-enhanced service.

"I noted also the east coast mainline will receive investment to deliver much improved journey times to Leeds and York.

"A quick read of the plan suggests a Leeds-London time saving of 20 minutes, which is good. I am most interested in the resilience of the line, so am looking to see the existing electrification made more robust.

"Rail freight has sometimes been a second tier priority for the railways, but the new transpennine plan has improved clearances.

"That may not sound much, but bigger containers will be able to use the route. It is something the rail freight industry has long called for and will take thousands of HGVs off the M62.

"I believe the east-west plans in the north are excellent for both people and freight.

"I remain disappointed about HS2 not reaching Leeds as planned, but we are receiving capacity increases and time improvements for north-south journeys though not all I was hoping for and provided in a different way.

"We need though to look at the plan by what it delivers as a whole rather than comparing one part of it, the north-south element, with the previous proposals.

Mr Jones concluded: "The changes to the old plans I will accept because the east-west benefits and the removal of freight from roads far and away make up for the smaller decrease in north-south journey times.

"But delivery is all and I will now focus on that.

"Overall, though, this is the biggest investment in the rail in the north ever, so that is a big win."