Business disappointed by revised rail plan

The Government's latest plan to overhaul the UK's railway infrastructure has left business chiefs largely unimpressed.

Two northbound trains at buffers at Kings Cross Station London
Although the Government said its £96 billion Integrated Rail Plan would lead to faster rail travel through the country arriving a decade earlier than originally envisaged, there was disappointment that a high-speed rail link connecting Birmingham with Yorkshire – part of the HS2 project from London to the North of England – would not now go ahead.
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Critics also pointed out that much of the £96 billion had already been announced for existing projects and that plans for a new, high-speed link between Manchester and Leeds in the North of England – the Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) – were to be scrapped and replaced by upgrades to the existing  track.

Plans scaled back 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson described the plans as a "monumental programme for rail investment", adding: "The way to cut costs on train travel is to modernise and to electrify, and that's what we're doing."But Matthew Fell, Chief Policy Director at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said businesses in northern England would be "justifiably disappointed" at the revised scheme.“High-quality infrastructure is fundamental to rising living standards and levelling up the country," he said. “The Integrated Rail Plan is a significant investment that will go some way towards modernising our ageing rail networks and can be delivered at pace.“But businesses across the Midlands and Northern England will be justifiably disappointed to see the goalposts have moved at the eleventh hour, and concerned that some of the areas most sorely in need of development will lose out as a result of the scaled back plans.”

'Huge disappointment'

Shevaun Haviland, Director-General of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: "This will be huge disappointment to the thousands of businesses that were relying on HS2 and NPR to fire up economic regeneration through the improved capacity and connectivity of our rail network.“While some places will benefit from these revised proposals, many companies have built their plans for the future around what they believed was a firm commitment from government to see these projects through in full.“The economic benefits that they would have brought to areas across the Midlands and the North would have improved the lives of countless generations and created growth opportunities for businesses across the country.“There is also grave concern that without more capacity on our railways, any significant progress on shifting more freight transportation off our roads and onto the rail network will be stymied, making it much more difficult to achieve our net zero ambitions.”The Government's Integrated Rail Plan includes commitments to complete the HS2 line from Crewe to Manchester; a new high-speed line between Birmingham and East Midlands Parkway; upgrades or electrification of the existing Midland Main Line, East Coast Main Line and the Transpennine Main Line; and a new mass transit system for Leeds and West Yorkshire.Richard Burge, Chief Executive of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, described the Government's revised plan as not just a blow to northern England, but also "a betrayal" of the government's stated determination for a levelling up between the north of the country and the more affluent south."It is hugely disappointing that after the positive announcement of a new Export Strategy yesterday, the government’s commitment to invest in productivity gains for the future has been compromised," he said."Coming right off the heels of COP26, today’s announcement that moves the country away from infrastructure projects that deliver a more sustainable future for British transport is especially disconcerting."It is difficult to understand how the Government expects the UK to compete globally with the most advanced economies when we cannot deliver decent connectivity between our own cities."

Changing track

Mike Cherry, National Chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said the news that the section of HS2 to Leeds was not going ahead would come as a major disappointment to firms across the country.“Fundamentally," he said, "we need guarantees that the investment being promised will deliver the same benefits as the original plans where passenger and freight capacity are concerned. For the sake of business travel, tourism, supply chains, international trade, and levelling up in the round, that same additional capacity needs to be there.“Suddenly changing course on a project like this when so many were working on the basis that it was going ahead is never helpful."

Read more news and views from David Sapsted

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