Dominic Raab Insists Watered Down Rail Plans Deliver "Best Bang For The Buck" To Taxpayers
The government has faced criticism over its rail plans.
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab has defended plans to scrap the current plan for the HS2 rail link to Leeds, despite backlash from local leaders.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has confirmed the HS2 rail link to Leeds would be dropped despite having previously promised the plans would go ahead.
Writing in the Yorkshire Post, Johnson said a new £96bn rail plan would include a "new study on the best way" to bring HS2 to Leeds via Bradford, delaying the implementation of any solid plans further.
The Leeds-Bradford HS2 link is just one part of the government's Northern Powerhouse Rail project, which Transport Secretary Grant Shapps will announce full details of later today.
Several other key pledges for connections are expected to be significantly watered down, including the Midland Main Line which Johnson has said would be "electrified and expanded". He has also promised "long stretches of brand new high-speed track" between Leeds and Manchester, although an entire new line was hoped for.
Speaking to Sky News, Raab said he would not reveal the full plans ahead of the announcement, but said the government was focussed on giving taxpayers the "best bang for their buck".
"The details of the different legs will be announced later today in the House of Commons – that is the right thing to do, given the commercial sensitivity," he said.
Raab promised there would be "£96bn going into rail infrastructure to link the rest of the country with the Midlands and the North".
He continued: "Critically, the configuration of the projects will mean we can deliver those rail links much quicker, and they will focus not just on linking the south and London with the Midlands and the North, but also the interconnectivity between those regions."
Naz Shah, the Labour MP for Bradford West, said Johnson was "pulling the whole damn rug from under our feet and ripping up the floor behind him".
But Raab insisted the government was "very focused" on Bradford, where commuters have complained of poor connectivity and slow journey times.
"I don't think there has ever been a rail investment project on the scale of what this government is doing," he said.
"There's always more demand than there is supply."Jon Collins, the former chair of the East Midlands HS2 programme board said the decision was a "huge mistake".
Speaking to Sky News, he said: "It's going to cause very significant economic harm to this part of the country.
"It should be about improving the economy from the Midlands north, but the reality is that London over-heeds economically."
The Prime Minister had promised in February a significant overhaul of eastern rail connections would go ahead.
"I can certainly confirm that we are are going to develop the eastern leg as well as the whole of the HS2," he told the House of Commons.
Johnson has faced criticism from his own MPs elected in the so-called Red Wall, with Rossendale and Darwen MP Jake Berry questioning whether voters were right to take Johnson "at his word" over the plans.
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said the proposals had people in the north of England "worried".
"We believed we were promised a new line between Manchester and Leeds via Bradford," he told ITV's Peston.
"That is what the north of England believes is needed.
"If you're going to level up this part of the world, if you're going to level up the north of England with the south-east of England particularly, you have to unlock its full potential and that means bringing forward your best solution, not a cut price solution.
"We'll wait to look at the details but I think there are a lot of worried people across the north of England."
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