Ministers “sold us out”, McMahon says as he condemns integrated rail plan

Elliot Chappell

Northern MP and Labour frontbencher Jim McMahon has accused the government of having “completely sold us out” as the Secretary of State for Transport confirmed a U-turn on commitments to build new high-speed lines.

Addressing MPs following a statement from Grant Shapps this morning, the Shadow Transport Secretary described the announcement on infrastructure as a “betrayal” of the North and said that “we’re not going to accept crumbs off the table”.

The Transport Secretary confirmed, under the integrated rail plan, that the eastern leg of HS2 to Leeds has been scrapped and that plans for ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’, a new east-to-west high-speed line across the North, have been downgraded.

Update: 3.45pm: Responding to the announcement, Keir Starmer said: “Yesterday, Boris Johnson admitted he crashed the car when it came to sleaze. Today, he has derailed the trains. He’s taking the country absolutely nowhere.”

The minister told parliament that journey times will be cut from 86 to 51 minutes for Manchester to Birmingham; 86 to 58 minutes for London to Derby; 74 to 26 minutes for Brimingham to Nottingham; 55 to 33 minutes for Leeds to Manchester; and 50 minutes to 35 minutes from Liverpool to Manchester.

But McMahon argued: “There’s no amount of gloss, no amount of spin that can be put on this. He promised HS2 to Leeds. He promised Northern Powerhouse Rail. He promised the North would not be forgotten. He hasn’t just forgotten us – he’s completely sold us out!”

The Secretary of State revealed that there will be HS2 track from Crewe to Manchester, as promised, but that instead of the easter leg of HS2 to Leeds, there will be a high-speed line established between Birmingham to the East Midlands.

“What we’ve been given today is the great train robbery. Robbing the North of its chance to realise its full potential. Robbing the next generation of the hope and the opportunity they are due. And robbing 15 million people across the North of the investment they’ve been denied for 11 years under this rotten government,” McMahon added.

Boris Johnson said last month that the government would build Northern Powerhouse Rail, and the government also faced criticism from its own benches today. Tory Robbie Moore said he was “deeply disappointed” by the integrated rail plan and said the Bradford district has been “deeply short-changed”.

Under the changed proposals unveiled this morning, Northern Powerhouse Rail will now not go through Bradford as previously promised by ministers. Bradford is the seventh biggest but worst connected major city in the country.

Conservative MP Huw Merriman, chair of the transport select committee, told parliament this morning that the announcement showed “the danger of selling perpetual sunlight and leaving it to others to explain the moonlight”.

“The Northern Powerhouse Rail plan has been cut back beyond recognition. By scrapping the HS2 Leeds branch and Manchester to Leeds line, this government has removed a lynchpin of the Northern Powerhouse,” TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said.

“Around this hole, regional development plans will unravel. Plans that would have brought good jobs and greater prosperity. The Midlands and the North have the talent to compete with the world. But they need the infrastructure to match. Yet again, there is a gulf between what the Prime Minister promises, and what he delivers.”

The integrated rail plan announcement follows longstanding criticisms of the disparity between infrastructure spending between the South and North of the country and promises from the Prime Minister, both before and after the election, to ‘level up’ England.

Recent Institute for Public Policy Research analysis showed that between 2009 and 2020, the North received just £349 per person in transport spending while the UK overall received £430 per person and London received £864 per person.

The think tank’s research showed that if the North had received the same per person spending as the capital it would have received £86bn more, which is a figure higher than Transport for the North’s 30-year £70bn transport investment plan.

Within the North, the North East saw the lowest transport spending – an average of just £310 per person over the decade. Yorkshire and the Humber received £328 and the North West £379. The East Midlands and South West have also seen underinvestment, receiving just £258 and £270 spent per person.

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