Thank you for contacting me about work to level up the country.
I am proud of the Government’s defining mission to unite and level up the whole of the UK. Levelling up is a mission which spans the work of government and I know that it means creating new jobs and growing productivity in places that have experienced economic and industrial decline. To that extent, I am delighted that Ministers are delivering a job-creating infrastructure revolution, which includes £6.9 billion of investment in train, tram, bus and cycle projects across England's City Regions.
I am pleased that the Government is committed to delivering the biggest investment in the railways since Victorian times, with the Autumn Budget confirming over £35 billion of rail investment over the spending review period to improve passenger journeys and connectivity across the country, focusing on the Midlands and the North.
The Integrated Rail Plan brings forward the single biggest investment in the history of our rail network - £96 billion – and delivers three new high-speed rail lines across the East and West Midlands, Yorkshire and the North West, slashing journey times and bringing more benefits to more people more quickly. Ministers are also continuing to make progress on restoring transport links previously lost in the Beeching cuts of the 1960s, with the first line reopening between Exeter and Okehampton in November 2021.
The IRP also doubles or trebles capacity and upgrades the East Coast Main Line, fully electrifies the Midland Main Line, and fully electrifies and upgrades the Trans-Pennine Main Line, going well beyond previous plans, and improving journeys between Manchester and Leeds.
Northern Powerhouse Rail
I am delighted that the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) will deliver the core Northern Powerhouse Rail network, which will include 40 miles of new high speed line between Warrington, Manchester and Yorkshire, and complete the electrification of the Trans-Pennine Route. These upgrades will dramatically improve connections between Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds, slashing journey times by around a third and increasing capacity.
As I understand it, the Government decided to focus on the core Northern Powerhouse Rail network, connecting Liverpool, West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester as the three largest economic areas in the North, where unifying labour markets will create the most jobs and business opportunities. But the IRP recognises that more can be done; that is why it may consider delivering further Northern Powerhouse Rail corridors across the North in due course, subject to affordability and progress on the core portfolio.
Following the recommendations of the independent Oakervee Review, the Prime Minister approved HS2 in 2020. As a result of this, construction on Phase One is now progressing well. Within budget and on schedule, it is already supporting 20,000 jobs and working with 2,200 businesses, 97 per cent of which are UK-based.
When complete, HS2 will form the backbone of the UK’s transport network, delivering a significant increase in rail capacity, cutting journey times, boosting productivity and bringing our biggest towns and cities closer together. HS2 will also be the world's most environmentally sustainable high-speed railway, with Ministers aiming to deliver a 'net gain' to biodiversity over the project's next phase.
Reversing the Beeching Cuts
Connecting smaller towns is also important. I am pleased that the Government has committed £500 million to start reopening lines closed following the Beeching report, reconnecting smaller towns, regenerating local economies and improving accessibility to jobs, homes and education.
We have already seen the benefits of reversing the Beeching cuts. For example, in 2015 a short stretch of line called the Todmorden Curve was restored, supported by £8.8 million of Government funding. This has allowed for direct services from Burnley and Accrington to Manchester. Moreover, in 2017 Ilkeston Junction Station was also successfully reopened, after 40 years of Ilkeston being the largest town in England without any train service.
Elsewhere, buses are a lifeline for millions of people across the country, supporting town centres and strengthening communities. That is why I welcome a landmark National Bus Strategy, which will deliver better more reliable services for passengers. Backed by £3 billion, the strategy will deliver simple, cheap flat fares, better services in the evenings and at weekends, and hundreds of miles of new bus lanes. And at the Autumn Budget, the Chancellor announced a series of bus transformation deals to deliver London-style improvements in fares, services and infrastructure.
The Autumn Budget also confirmed £24 billion of strategic roads investment from 2020 to 2025, delivering over 60 upgrades, opening up new educational, health, social and work opportunities for people across the country. Work is also underway to speed up the delivery of infrastructure projects, with ‘Project Speed’ set to deliver the A66 Northern Trans-Pennine upgrade five years sooner than planned through a radical acceleration of the construction schedule.
I understand that the Government will soon publish a landmark Levelling Up White Paper, which will outline bold new policy interventions to improve livelihoods and opportunities across the length and breadth of the UK.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP