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Rishi Sunak's Northern Transport Pledges Aren't As New As They Seem

East Midlands Railway Class 158 sprinter 158806 arriving at Tutbury and Hatton Station (Alamy)

6 min read

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confirmed the government would scrap the northern leg of HS2 on Wednesday and instead spend the money on a new Network North project to improve transport across the country, but much of it appears to repeat existing plans.

The Network North package promises to ensure that "every region of the country will benefit from more transport investment" as a result of the high speed rail line between Birmingham and Manchester being cancelled. 

A lot of the detail is already familiar, however. A number of projects included in the plan have been under consideration by the government for a long time, while money has already been promised for others.

Here's the key details of the new Network North plan that we have seen before:

Connecting the major cities of the north 

Official documents say that Network North will connect cities in the north with more frequent trains, increased capacity and faster journeys. Northern Powerhouse Rail is the existing planned project to connect cities east to west, for which the original plans were scaled back in the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP), released in autumn 2021. 

At last year’s Conservative Party conference, then-prime minister Liz Truss recommitted to the new line from Liverpool to Hull. 

A new station for Bradford

Bradford’s new station would “support regeneration efforts in the UK’s seventh largest city,” increase frequency of services and reduce journey times, the plan said, A new station in the West Yorkshire city had been a key part of the original NPR proposals put forward but the idea was scrapped by former prime minister Boris Johnson and former transport secretary Grant Shapps in their Integrated Rail Plan.

Truss said that Bradford would get a station when she committed to a new rail line from Liverpool to Hull at last year's Conservative conference. The pledge was reversed by Sunak when he became Prime Minister, before he reintroduced it at Tory conference this week following reports by the BBC earlier this year that plans for the new station were being reconsidered. 

A new West Yorkshire mass transit system

The plans to improve connections between Leeds and Bradford, Huddersfield and Halifax will receive £2.5billion as a result of HS2 being scrapped, according to the Network North documents. 

The 2021 IRP confirmed the start of work on the West Yorkshire mass transit system, and said that the first services would be “operational in the second half of this decade”. The plan said that the system could “transform local travel in and around” the region. 

Almost £4billion additional investment for city regions in the north 

The Network North plan said that the provision will mean northern city regions will receive 75 per cent more funding than they do now. 

In 2021’s IRP, the Department for Transport said that they were investing £5.7 billion for eight English city regions’ transport networks. 

Taking on road projects

The announcement also includes a series of road projects aimed at improving congestion, such as what the Network North documents described as “the M6 junction 15 between Manchester and Birmingham” and providing funding to turn the A1 into a dual carriageway between Morpeth and Ellingham in Northumberland. 

The A1 improvement was already under discussion, and according to reporting from the BBC last month, the scheme had first been raised 15 years ago. In September a decision on whether or not to do the work had been pushed back to June 2024. 

Another project proposed in the new plans is the A509 Isham Bypass. Plans for this road had been repeatedly delayed. North Northamptonshire Council said in its latest update in May that it expected the bypass would open in July 2027 but had still not submitted its business case to the government. 

The A4123 Birchley Island was also noted. Ministers agreed in January 2021 to provide £24m for the £30.1m Birchley Island roundabout revamp, with Sandwell Council stumping up the rest. In September, it was reported that the government would “fast track” the scheme.

Traffic pinch points, such as the A5 between Hinckley and Tamworth 

Conservative MP Trudy Harrison said in the Common in March 2022 that National Highways had just finished a formal evidence-gathering phase of the third round of route strategies, which would provide a significant opportunity to consider the needs of the A5 corridor and, in particular, reinforce the case for improving the Hinckley to Tamworth section.

Reopening closed Beeching railway lines

Sunak’s plan says that the government will “reconnect communities” by reopening Beeching lines. 

In 2020 the Department for Transport pledged £500million to start the process of bringing back some lines that had been closed as a result of route closures and service changes in the 1960s, known as the Beeching Cuts. 

According to the government’s press release three years ago “long-isolated communities across the country will benefit from better rail connections that will level-up regional economies and boost access to jobs and education”.

Developing a rail hub for the Midlands 

The Midlands Rail Hub has been under discussion for some time, but had not yet received full government approval. The prospect had been mentioned in the IRP in 2021.

According to sub-national transport body Midlands Connect, the hub is the “region’s biggest and most ambitious rail improvement scheme”, designed to improve connectivity across the region. 

Network North will see investment at £1.75billion. Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street, who was unhappy with the decision to axe HS2, had been campaigning for funding for the project,and  plans were submitted to the government in December 2022 by sub-national transport body Midlands Connect, with backing from the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) and West Midlands Rail Executive (WMRE). 

Guaranteeing transport funding in the East Midlands devolution deal

The East Midlands is expected to vote for its first elected mayor next spring, and government has now confirmed it will guarantee £1.5billion for transport as part of the devolution deal. Subject to the Mayor’s views, officials said this money could go towards things such as the potential to extend the Nottingham Tram system to serve Gedling and Clifton South and to connect Derby with East Midlands Parkway with a Bus Rapid Transit System.

However, the Clifton South line was opened in 2015, along with the rest of phase two of the tram system. According to Nottinghamshire MP Ben Bradley, this is an error in the Network North documents. "We can go beyond Clifton. What it refers to, in a Westminster not-quite-involved-in-the-detail kind of way, is opportunities around Ratcliffe-on-Soar,” he told BBC Radio Nottingham.

Plans for a bus rapid transit scheme connecting Derby to a HS2 East Midlands Hub station were published in 2020 by a partnership including Derby City Council, Derbyshire County Council, Midlands Connect and East Midlands Councils. The connection was supposed to provide “enhanced access to HS2 East Midlands Hub station” which will no longer be built.

Development at Euston following HS2 changes

Sunak promised a new Euston Quarter where thousands of homes could be developed, in the part of central London that has seen widespread construction work as a result of the high-speed project.  

While Sunak confirmed plans for HS2 to reach Euston Station will go ahead, there is a complete change of plan for the site in central London.

The revised station will have six platforms instead of 10, a proposed foot tunnel to Euston Square Underground station will not be built, and management of the site will be taken away from HS2 Ltd and privatised. 

Sunak also upped the ambitions of existing plans for developing Euston – with the current plans for 2,000 apartments increased to 10,000 homes.

 

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