Andrew Jones MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure (APPGI), discusses the recent roundtable discussion on the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) with the transport minister.
Queen’s Speech last week, first meeting in the new session of the APPGI this week.
We are off to a good prompt start - and have even got the annual general meeting (AGM) done so we can continue to meet!
Just as well when there’s so much interest in the activities of the group.
Our first meeting was virtual, and we discussed the Integrated Rail Plan.
We had the Transport Minister Andrew Stephenson MP with us. He outlined the plan but was keen to move quickly on to questions and discussion.
One thing that Andrew highlighted was that after a long period of purdah for local elections, we’re now going to see a series of announcements over the coming weeks.
HS2: no lost momentum
Andrew also highlighted how the bill for the Crewe to Manchester section of HS2 had been carried over to the new session, so no momentum was lost.
Andrew and I agreed strongly that the questions for HS2 now were now about delivery.
With 340 active sites and 22,000 people employed, this is a project that cannot be walked away from now, whatever positions people have had over the years.
Clarity on planning and delivery
The mentioning of future announcements, even though we did not know what or when, raised some thoughts among some other attendees.
The main one being certainty, specifically how more clarity will help project planning and delivery.
There were some questions about process, such as the use of future hybrid bills and whether parliament can have more than one at a time (the answer was yes).
We also discussed the publication of the rail network enhancement pipeline (RNEP) for the rail industry supply chain and working with local communities.
How complementary schemes can maximise impact
One point that particularly landed with me was made by Jonathan Spruce.
He emphasised how the biggest projects need complementary schemes developed if they’re going to maximise impact.
By complementary schemes we mean the smaller projects that could be feeder schemes to new infrastructure.
These would typically be developed by local authorities, and their planning and delivery time also needs to be factored in. Certainty was at the heart of that point too.
Process and certainty were put to the minister, but there were some practical specifics too.
The capacity of Leeds station was questioned. I’m more than familiar with that station, as it’s often part of my journey to Westminster.
We had the completion of the new Platform Zero and relaying out of the tracks last year, but capacity issues remain.
The need to grow rail freight was also raised. Andrew recognised that there’s growing demand for this and that the government wanted to meet that demand.
The IRP will help do that.
Benefits and priorities
The carbon and levelling up benefits of rail investment were raised by Rachel Skinner, who also reminded the meeting that accelerating delivery is not an easy thing to do.
Geoff French commented that the plan had lots of good projects, but that prioritising them was necessary.
He also stressed the importance of securing buy-in to projects from local people.
Part of that was working with the sub-national transport bodies, and David Hoggarth and Maria Machancoses were present to reinforce and flag local issues.
I was keen to hear more about the further electrification of the Midland Mainline – bit cheeky that one, as it was building on progress that I had a role in!
I thought the meeting had a positive and practical feel, with questions that ranged from the highest principles to detailed implementation.
This is a bit of a hallmark of our APPGI meetings, and one of the reasons why they are so good.