HS2, EWR and NPR saved trhough Jeremy Hunt's Autumn Statement

Three major infrastructure projects saved from the cutting room floor

In yesterday’s delivery of Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement, it was made explicitly clear that three of the UK’s biggest rail infrastructure projects will survive the cutting room floor amidst the ravenous Government spending cuts.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has pledged commitment to the Government’s delivery of Northern Powerhouse Rail, East West Rail, and the contentious northern expansion of High Speed two. As the Government attempted to find up to £55bn in savings, many had called for individual, if not all of these projects to be scrapped or simply to receive cuts to their funding.

Hunt gave reassurances as he pledged that all three will “be funded as promised.”

“The Autumn Statement recommits to the government’s transformative growth plans for our railways.

“These include East West Rail, core Northern Powerhouse Rail, and High Speed 2 to Manchester. These will provide fast, more reliable services and connect people to new job opportunities.”

It is currently unclear what is meant by the ‘core’ Northern Powerhouse Rail; however, it is likely a reference to the promises made in the Integrated Rail Plan rather than former prime minister Liz Truss’ promise to deliver the line in full, from Hull to Liverpool with a station at Bradford.

The news for NPR has settled the outrage over recent comments from former Secretary of Sate for Transport Grant Shapps, when he claimed that there “wasn’t really much point” to deliver the long-awaited railway. Expected to cost somewhere in the region of £40m for its delivery, scrapping this infrastructure project would clearly help in the cuts necessary to fill the £55bn budgetary black hole, however the economic and social benefits of the project far outweigh what could be saved through scrapping its delivery.

The future of East West Rail (EWR) – a new line between Oxford and Cambridge connecting up small settlements in between – has been in doubt for months now.

Whilst HS2 has been beset with delays and continuous rising costs that total over £100bn, the progression of phase two – running from Birmingham to Manchester via Crew – will deliver significant social and economic benefits to the Northern cities, finally receiving interlinking availability that will enhance connectivity and support TfN’s Socially Inclusive Transport Strategy.

In response to this news Darren Caplan, Chief Executive of the Railway Industry Association, the national trade body representing UK rail suppliers, said:

“Last month we wrote an open letter to Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, setting out how rail is not just essential for UK connectivity and levelling-up, but that it is also an important national industry which plays a major role in boosting economic growth in other sectors too. Given this, we said it is essential to push on with rail projects, even given the current difficult economic circumstances.

“On the face of it, it is therefore welcome that the Chancellor has confirmed in the Autumn Statement that three key rail projects will be built in the coming months and years. This isn’t just the right thing to do when it comes to connectivity but is also in the long-term economic interests of the country and the efforts to decarbonise, as well.

“While we welcome the Chancellor’s decisions announced today, it is concerning that capital budgets will seemingly not rise as planned after 2024. RIA will of course monitor to see that the rail renewals budget is maintained too, to ensure there is no deterioration in the network. To deliver both transformational major projects for the future and to protect today’s railway, the industry needs the Government to commit to a long-term investment package beyond 2024, including through next week’s publication of the Statement of Funds Available for CP7. This will also ensure best value for money for both rail users and the taxpayer.”

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