Responding to the government’s publication of its Integrated Rail Plan, Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission Sir John Armitt said:
“We now have a realistic plan for major long term investments to improve rail for the North and Midlands in the face of public spending constraints. In our advice to government the Commission made the strategic case for more investment in rail to help deliver levelling up. We set out a number of possible packages of schemes based on our analysis of the economic benefits of the various projects and depending on the level of funding made available by government.
“It is sensible that the Integrated Rail Plan takes an adaptive approach, setting out a core pipeline of investment that should speed up delivery of benefits for communities and businesses. Beyond that pipeline, if additional funding becomes available the focus should be on further improving connections between Sheffield, Leeds, Bradford and Hull which are the kind of regional links likely to enhance economic benefits.”
The NIC published its Rail Needs Assessment (RNA) for the Midlands and the North on 15 December 2020.
The RNA set out five different illustrative packages of rail schemes:
- focussing on upgrades (baseline budget of £86bn which is consistent with rail spending in North and Midlands proposed in the NIC’s first National Infrastructure Assessment, which was in turn set within a ‘fiscal remit’ from government);
- prioritising regional links, under both +25% (£108bn) and +50% (£129bn) funding scenarios;
- prioritising long distance links, again under both +25% and +50% funding scenarios.
The RNA concluded that focussing on upgrades would be unlikely to meet the strategic objective of levelling up and that prioritising regional link packages would likely bring higher economic benefits overall for cities in the North and Midlands than the long distance link packages. The RNA proposed an adaptive approach to rail planning, whereby government should start by committing to a pipeline of core investments. If further funding is available, government could enhance the schemes or add further schemes, subject to certain conditions.