On 18 November 2021, the Government published the Integrated Rail Plan for the North and the Midlands (IRP), which outlines its plans for rail investments in both regions, including Phase 2b of HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail and other regional rail investments.

Background on the Integrated Rail Plan

The Oakervee Review

Following the publication of the Oakervee Review in February 2020, the Government announced its intention to draw up an Integrated Rail Plan for the North and the Midlands that would look at:

  • how best to integrate HS2 Phase 2b and wider transport plans in the North and the Midlands;
  • how to deliver benefits from these investments more quickly;
  • improving efficiency and reducing costs, drawing on the lessons learnt from Phase One of HS2; and
  • approaches to sponsorship and delivery, and how to take account of the views of local leaders.

National Infrastructure Commission: rail needs assessment

The Government asked the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) to carry out an assessment of the rail needs in the Midlands and the North of England to inform the development of its Integrated Rail Plan. The NIC’s final report, published on 15 December 2020, presented the Government with “a menu of options for a programme of rail investments” in both regions. The NIC’s report:

  • outlined that the benefits of investing in rail rest on certain assumptions such as whether “the economy will remain focussed on city regions following the Covid-19 crisis or other shocks.”   
  • recommended that the Government commit “to a core pipeline of stable, affordable investments, as part of a wider economic strategy for levelling up.” 
  • concluded that prioritising regional links “appears to have the highest potential economic benefits overall for cities in the Midlands and the North.” However, the NIC also added that “this does not rule out the further development of options such as the HS2 Phase 2b’s eastern leg that also have strategic value.”

The NICs recommendations, alongside other speculation, prompted concerns that the Eastern leg of phase 2b could be scrapped.

What rail improvements has the Government committed to in the Integrated Rail Plan?

The Integrated Rail Plan for the North and the Midlands (IRP) was published on 18 November 2021. It outlines the Government’s plans for delivering and sequencing rail investments in both regions, including Phase 2b of HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail and other regional rail investments. The total package of rail improvements in the IRP is estimated to cost £96 billion, which the Government described as the “biggest ever government investment in Britain’s rail network.” As part of the IRP, the Government plans to:

  • build High Speed 2 (HS2) from Crewe to Manchester, with new stations at Manchester Airport and Manchester Piccadilly.
  • build HS2 from the West Midlands to East Midlands Parkway.
  • build a new high speed line between Warrington, Manchester and Yorkshire, as part of Northern Powerhouse Rail.
  • upgrade and/or electrify three existing mainlines – the TransPennine Main Line, the Midland Main Line and the East Coast Main Line.
  • start work on the new West Yorkshire Mass Transit System.
  • introduce contactless ticketing across commuter services in the Midlands and the North.

High Speed Rail 2 (HS2)

HS2 is an ambitious, yet controversial project, which had previously intended to build a new high-speed rail line from London to Manchester and Leeds, via Birmingham, creating a high-speed Y-shaped network across the country. HS2 is being delivered in three phases. Parliamentary approval for phases 1 and 2a have already been given through the Hybrid Bill process for the High Speed Rail (London to West Midlands) Act 2017 (phase 1) and the High Speed Rail (West Midlands to Crewe) Act 2021 (phase 2a).

Following the publication of the Oakervee Review, the Government outlined its intention to bring forward an Integrated Rail Plan for the North and the Midlands, setting out how Phase 2b of HS2 would be sequenced with other major rail investments in the region, especially Northern Powerhouse Rail. Since then, Phase 2b has been subject to some uncertainty. The 2021 Queens Speech included proposals for a High Speed Rail (Crewe – Manchester) Bill, but no mention of the Eastern leg from the West Midlands to Leeds.

In the IRP, the Government committed to build the Western leg (from Crewe to Manchester), with new stations at Manchester Airport and Manchester Piccadilly. The IRP outlines that the Government intends to proceed with the Eastern leg, now called HS2 East, from Birmingham to the East Midlands Parkway. While the IRP did not include a commitment to extend the eastern leg to Leeds, the Government has said it will “look at the most effective way to run HS2 trains to Leeds, including the most optimal solution for Leeds Station capacity.”

Northern Powerhouse Rail

In recent years there have been various proposals to upgrade the rail network across the North of England. Different names, such as HS3, have been attached to these proposals, but they began to coalesce around the idea of the ‘Northern Powerhouse’.

In October 2014, the Coalition Government gave the green light for proposals on HS3 to be developed. Since then, Transport for the North (TfN) – a sub-national transport body – has developed proposals for Northern Powerhouse Rail. TfN, in March 2021, published its advice to Government on the Northern Powerhouse Rail Network, which outlined its preferred options for the route. This followed a Strategic Outline Business Case (SOBC) for NPR, which was sent to the Government in March 2019.

The Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) confirmed the Government’s intention to build a high-speed line between Warrington, Manchester and Yorkshire, ending east of the Standedge tunnels, as part of Northern Powerhouse Rail. The new high-speed line will connect with upgraded lines via Huddersfield to Leeds on one side and between Warrington to Liverpool on the other. This is one of the options put forward by TfN, but not its preferred option. In response to the Integrated Rail Plan, TfN has provided statutory advice to the Government, which outlines a number of concerns the body has with the Government’s proposals.

Further reading

Further background information is available in the Library Briefing Paper High Speed Rail 2 – an overview.


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