Dedicated transport minister for HS2 Andrew Stephenson has refused to confirm if the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) will be published before the Parliamentary summer recess.
In response to a question at NCE’s Future of Rail conference on whether the IRP will be published before Parliament breaks for the summer, Stephenson said the plan will be published “soon” but he fears “that’s not going to be as soon as some people would like”.
Earlier this week, the Railway Industry Association (RIA) urged the government to publish a number of rail investment strategies, including the IRP, in order to avoid a “summer of uncertainty” for businesses.
The House of Commons rises for the summer recess on 22 July, and RIA has stressed the importance of providing certainty to rail businesses before then.
Stephenson said that the IRP will be published “as soon as possible”. He emphasised that “cross-government buy in” is needed, in particular ensuring that the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, Treasury and others are “happy with [the] direction of travel”.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “The prime minister obviously announced the IRP back in February last year when he gave High Speed 2 (HS2) the go ahead following the Oakervee Review and his vision was to have this done pretty quickly, in a timely fashion and ideally before Christmas.
“Obviously that announcement was made before Covid-19 came along. That delayed everything – the Rail Needs Assessment from the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) wasn’t published until December and it’s right that we take time to reflect on what the NIC had to say but also stakeholders’ views on what the NIC had to say. So that process has been going on.”
Stephenson added that rail projects have been progressing despite the delay to the plan’s publication.
He said: “I think it’s fair to say at the same time, though, that we have been able to continue to get Treasury support for a number of rail projects while this has been ongoing. Obviously we’re getting royal assent on Phase 2a of HS2 and we’ve been able to announce in the Queen’s Speech that we’re moving forward with the western leg [of Phase 2b].
“At the same time we’ve announced over £900M split between last year and this year of investment into the TransPennine route upgrade. So we haven’t paused projects. There are certain things where there is widespread uncertainty and work isn’t progressing as fast as some would like but at the same time we are investing record sums in moving HS2 forward and finally getting on with the TransPennine route upgrade which has been talked about for over a decade.”
The IRP will provide an update on government’s plans for projects like HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail and Midlands Rail Hub.
It was due to be published “early” this year, but was delayed due to local election purdah rules and has still not been released.
The delay has added to uncertainty over the eastern leg of HS2 phase 2b. Fears that the section could be mothballed have been growing since the Department for Transport (DfT) announced plans to split the phase 2b bill in two, separating legislation needed to build the western and eastern legs.
Those fears were exacerbated by recommendations made by the NIC’s Rail needs assessment, which recommended prioritising the western leg to Manchester, and May’s Queen’s Speech, which said the western leg would be taken forward in the coming year but contained to reference to the eastern leg.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps has since said the government will “complete HS2 and include HS2 on the eastern leg to Leeds”. He has also said that more detail will be revealed in the IRP.
According to the RIA, there are three key strategies that are vital to providing certainty to the industry: the Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline, the IRP and the Transport Decarbonisation Plan.
The Transport Decarbonisation Plan was finally unveiled yesterday. It committed to Highways England’s £27bn road investment strategy (RIS2), and also included a pledge to publish the Rail Networks Enhancement Pipeline “shortly”.
Read NCE’s six key takeaways for civil engineers here.
Department of Civil Engineering https://www.ibu.edu.ba/department-of-civil-engineering/