A joint APPGI and ICE consultation aims to help address unanswered questions about the Integrated Rail Plan.
The Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) sets out a pipeline of rail schemes designed to transform travel in the North and Midlands over the coming decades.
At £96 billion, it represents the single largest rail investment ever made by any government.
However, the strategy doesn't answer key questions on how and when the individual projects will be delivered.
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure (APPGI) and ICE are setting up a consultation to help reduce that uncertainty and speed up delivery of the IRP.
When could the IRP be delivered?
Recently the APPGI hosted a discussion with UK Transport Minister Andrew Stephenson MP. During it they took stock of progress and explored some of those questions.
The minister highlighted progress to date, with parts of the core IRP pipeline already in delivery.
This includes sections of HS2, upgrading the Transpennine Route and electrifying the Midland Main Line.
However, many IRP schemes still face further gateway reviews before they're given the go-ahead.
Even then major schemes tend to cost more and take longer than planned.
The government seems to have prioritised upgrades over new lines for the IRP in a bid to deliver benefits more quickly. However, there's no guarantee this will be the case.
What else needs to be addressed?
Beyond the uncertain timeframes, there are still key questions about how to deliver the IRP.
The number of major projects underway or in development presents oversight challenges. Yet, important details about the IRP’s governance plans are still unclear.
The government argues the plan will cause less disruption than previous proposals. However, there's little detail about how to achieve that.
The traditional approach to line closures may no longer be the best one as travel patterns change following the Covid-19 pandemic.
There are further questions left to consider:
- How could other transport strategies, such as the Union Connectivity Review, affect the IRP?
- Will rising inflation affect the delivery of the IRP?
- What should be the future role of subnational transport bodies?
Beyond the core pipeline
The IRP follows the National Infrastructure Commission’s (NIC’s) recommendation to take a targeted, adaptive approach to rail investment.
This meant committing to a core pipeline of affordable projects. It gave the supply chain and other stakeholders certainty while making it possible to add schemes later.
The IRP states that add-ons will depend on current projects being delivered on time and in budget. They should also reflect future demand.
But there's little else about what other factors will guide those decisions.
How schemes help national objectives like net zero, levelling up and the UN Sustainable Development Goals are likely to be key factors.
In fact, research suggests the public values the wider benefits and local impact of projects above overall cost.
No time to lose: getting the IRP right matters
The need for better connected transport with more capacity in the Midlands and the North has been a long-standing challenge. It's needed to improve productivity and quality of life.
Making rail travel more accessible is also essential for achieving long-term national objectives. For example, it could help with the levelling up missions and the transition to net zero.
There's little time to lose to deliver the strategic schemes needed to achieve those goals.
Tell us your views
Due to the urgent need to address those unanswered questions, the APPGI and ICE are seeking evidence on three key questions:
- What are realistic timescales for delivery for individual schemes in the IRP Core Pipeline?
- What measures could be taken to speed up the delivery of individual projects in the pipeline and the plan as a whole?
- What principles could be used to determine what could be added to the Core Pipeline in the future, and when?
The responses to this consultation will be used to develop a policy paper setting out recommendations.
This consultation is overseen by a steering group led by APPGI chair Andrew Jones MP.
He's joined by past ICE presidents Rachel Skinner and Geoff French, Baroness Blake of Leeds and Paul Maynard MP.
The consultation runs from 27 June to 5 August.