Northern Rail Hub — [Mr Jim Hood in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 18th January 2012.

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Photo of Jason McCartney Jason McCartney Conservative, Colne Valley 2:30 pm, 18th January 2012

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hood. As one of the vice-chairmen of the all-party group on rail in the north, I am delighted to have secured this debate on an issue that is well and truly at the top of our agenda. It is great to see present so many colleagues from the all-party group and from the north of the country who are passionate about rail investment in their constituencies and across the north.

My Colne Valley constituency has two rail lines running through it. The Leeds to Manchester trans-Pennine route has stations in Lockwood, Slaithwaite and Marsden, while the Huddersfield, Penistone and Sheffield line has stations in Honley, where I live, and Brockholes. Frequent, reliable, clean and affordable rail services are needed in my constituency and across the north as a clear alternative to the clogged motorways of the M1 and M62.

What exactly is the northern hub? The aim of the project is to allow the towns and cities of the north to work better together and drive growth by increasing capacity and reducing journey times on the rail network in the north. There is a bottleneck on the rail network in the north—largely in Manchester—and a lack of investment in transport infrastructure will act as a restraint to economic growth across the north. The northern hub is a £560 million project of targeted infrastructure investment to help the north continue to thrive that includes a series of proposed rail network improvements across the north that will stimulate economic growth.

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Labour, Bolton South East

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is important that all parts of the northern hub project are properly funded? If only one aspect is funded, that will cause difficulties in the rest of the area.

Photo of Jason McCartney Jason McCartney Conservative, Colne Valley

The hon. Lady makes an excellent point. When I sum up, I will re-emphasise that we will only get the total benefit from all the economic benefits if the whole hub project is fully funded. I hope that that will be one of the main conclusions from this 90-minute debate.

The improvements and economic benefits of the project will go as far as Newcastle in the north, Sheffield in the south, Hull in the east, and Chester and Liverpool in the west. It really will benefit the whole of the north. The northern hub will be a catalyst to drive economic growth in the north. Network Rail has calculated that between 20,000 and 30,000 new jobs will be created, that there will be an extra 700 trains a day and that it could be worth up to £4 billion to the northern economy. Network Rail submitted the northern hub proposals to the Government last September, as part of the initial industry plan, and we expect a final decision this summer.

Where are we up to with the project? To give some history, the northern hub report was launched by Network Rail in early 2010. It evolved from a Northern Way report about what was needed to drive economic growth in the north. It defined a set of outputs and the hub was designed to meet them.

Photo of Julian Sturdy Julian Sturdy Conservative, York Outer

I commend my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. He is right about the economic growth that the project will provide and the job creation that we need, especially in the north. Is it not true that the project will also help bridge the north-south divide that has grown over the past 10 years?

Photo of Jason McCartney Jason McCartney Conservative, Colne Valley

My hon. Friend makes a fantastic point, which was also made after the statement on High Speed 2. As well as investing in HS2, it is important that we invest in local rail infrastructure, which is exactly what the northern hub can do.

In March 2011, the Chancellor announced that £85 million of Government funding was available for developing the Ordsall chord, which is a new link between Manchester Victoria and Manchester Piccadilly stations that will provide a new route enabling passengers to get across the city. Importantly, there will be no need to change trains in Manchester. Network Rail is working to gain necessary planning consents to build the new link.

Last autumn, the Chancellor announced funding for electrification on the north trans-Pennine route between Manchester and York via Leeds. That was not originally part of the hub plans, but it brings huge benefits, such as increased reliability and more room on trains. It is better for the environment and helps reduce the cost of running the railway. In fact, yesterday evening, our all-party group received a briefing on electrification in the north-west, during which we heard all about the benefits. Electrification of the trans-Pennine route between Leeds and Manchester will allow six fast trains an hour between Leeds and Manchester—there are just four at present—and journey times could be reduced by up to 10 minutes. However, the plan has implications, which I will address in a moment.

Some aspects of the northern rail hub project still have to be funded. As has been mentioned, we will only get all the hub’s economic benefits if all of it is funded. Two new platforms are needed at Manchester Piccadilly to allow more trains to run through rather than terminate in Manchester. That would provide more direct train services across the north. Moreover and crucially, new tracks are needed on the lines between Leeds and Liverpool and between Sheffield and Manchester, to allow fast trains between the major towns and cities of the north to overtake slower trains.

This is a live issue in my Colne Valley constituency, and many of my constituents have legitimate worries about it. In fact, I received an e-mail in the past hour from SMART—Slaithwaite and Marsden Action on Rail Transport—which is, as am I, very concerned about the effect that the proposals for faster services will have on local stopping services. Fast trains are great, but they must not exist at the expense of local stopping services. We have to ensure that there is an integrated transport system in the northern corridor, not just the fast services between Leeds and Manchester. I will keep a very close eye on that and campaign fully to keep all the localised stopping services, because it is important that major funding projects keep an integrated local transport system.

Contrary to reports, no decision has been made on which is the optimum pattern for Marsden, Slaithwaite and Lockwood on my patch. The decision will be made through the franchising process and involve consultation with local representatives through the passenger transport executives. Network Rail is in regular discussions with representatives from the Department for Transport, Metro, Transport for Greater Manchester and Northern Rail. They will all work together to establish which pattern best suits residents in the area, mindful of infrastructure capability, commercial demand and improved connectivity. That is why we need the northern hub investment—this really is an important part of it—to provide more tracks and more overtaking opportunities.

I am sure that hon. Members would like to know who supports the hub. Network Rail welcomes recognition by my right hon. Friend the Minister, who has responsibility for rail, that the hub has a case and that the Government have funded both the Ordsall chord and the electrification of the trans-Pennine route. The northern hub is supported by a wide range of stakeholders, local authorities and passenger transport executives, such as Metro in West Yorkshire and Transport for Greater Manchester. Business in the north supports it, and it enjoys cross-party, pan-northern political support, as the number of Members present clearly demonstrates.

The Transport Committee endorsed the hub in a report on transport and the economy in March 2011. I welcome that support. We must remember that the project has the potential to create 20,000 to 30,000 extra jobs for the north, which will help the Government reduce the welfare bill. We would all support that.

Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Chair, Transport Committee

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Transport Committee’s recent report on high-speed rail makes specific reference to the northern hub? It is supported by the cross-party Select Committee.

Photo of Jason McCartney Jason McCartney Conservative, Colne Valley

I thank the hon. Lady for mentioning that issue, which we were talking about at the all-party group meeting last night. She brings much expertise and knowledge on the Select Committee area. I am sure that the matter that she raises will be examined and explored during the debate.

I note that many other issues surround rail travel, not just in the north but across the rest of the country. I hope that concerns such as connectivity with HS2, rail fares, cross-boundary fares and the non-collection of fares—the conductor’s ticket machine keeps breaking down on some of my train services, so halfway through the service, he stops issuing tickets—capacity, Northern Rail carriage demands and many more matters will be the subject of future debates. However, this debate is on the northern hub.

Photo of Julie Hilling Julie Hilling Labour, Bolton West

On the hon. Gentleman’s point about not being able to collect fares, does he have the same problem on his services as I have on mine, where the conductor cannot collect the fares because he cannot make his way through the people on board who are packed in like sardines?

Photo of Jason McCartney Jason McCartney Conservative, Colne Valley

Yes. The chairman of the all-party group on rail in the north makes a fantastic point. I was travelling on the train from Honley, where I live, to Stocksmoor on a Saturday afternoon and lots of people were heading towards Sheffield to do their shopping at Meadowhall. Halfway through the journey, the batteries in the conductor’s machine ran out because he was issuing so many tickets. Apparently, that happens all the time and the machine cannot produce tickets then. At a time when we want to get investment in the railways and recover the costs, I find that absolutely ridiculous. There are many issues like that. I hope that we can continue to explore the matter with the all-party group; that would be excellent.

Photo of Jason McCartney Jason McCartney Conservative, Colne Valley

As I said, many other issues surround rail travel but this debate is primarily about the northern hub, which I know my hon. Friend will mention.

Photo of Martin Vickers Martin Vickers Conservative, Cleethorpes

My hon. Friend is making a splendid case, as always, and is speaking up for his constituents. Does he agree that it is fine to increase capacity, but that we must make the process of allowing new operators to access the service much easier and quicker?

Photo of Jason McCartney Jason McCartney Conservative, Colne Valley

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. In our part of West Yorkshire, Grand Central has increased its range of services and is stopping in Mirfield just outside Huddersfield. Direct rail services, particularly to London and the south, are an important part of breaking down the north-south divide, and I certainly welcome those developments.

I thank the Minister for being here today. I should like to note a few things that I welcome in her speech to the Northern Rail conference in Leeds in October last year. In that speech, she recognised the role that the railway has to play in bringing prosperity to the north, with which all of us in this Chamber would agree. I also welcome her acknowledgement that the Chancellor has prioritised investment in rail by announcing in the spending review £18 billion of funding for rail. I agree with her comments that rail can deliver not only growth, but a more balanced sustainable economic growth and that it can help to tackle the prosperity gap between the north and south. Crucially, the Minister stated that the Government recognised the benefits that the remainder of the northern hub programme could offer and confirmed that they would be looking “very seriously” at the whole proposal in the run up to this July’s high-level output specification 2 statement. Again, I welcome that.

I should like to put the Minister on the spot, however, and ask her three specific questions. First, will she commit to ensuring that the northern hub project is fully funded, so that the north can enjoy the economic benefits that that would deliver: 20,000 to 30,000 new jobs and £4.2 billion of wider economic benefits? Secondly, given that the Government have rightly funded HS2, which enjoys a benefit-cost ratio of 1.6:1 and that the northern hub enjoys a business case of more than 4:1, does she agree that it makes economic sense to fund the hub fully?

Photo of Jonathan Reynolds Jonathan Reynolds Labour, Stalybridge and Hyde

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. I very much enjoyed his use of the phrase “pan-northern,” of which we should have more in Parliament. I support entirely his position on funding the hub holistically as one scheme to get the maximum benefit from it, but what information does he have about the cost ratio changing if we only fund it piecemeal? Surely, if we fund the hub individually in sections, it would result in the costs increasing and the benefit ratio reducing.

Photo of Jason McCartney Jason McCartney Conservative, Colne Valley

The hon. Gentleman represents Stalybridge, which is just over the Pennines. Obviously, I have been through his constituency when travelling on train services through the tunnels to the other side. He makes a very good point. Certainly, the benefit-cost ratio diminishes rapidly if the project is not fully funded. I hope that we are getting that point across.

I have asked the Minister two specific questions. My third question is: does she agree that, following the HS2 announcement, the northern hub is even more important to the delivery of wider economic benefits and to ensuring that an integrated transport infrastructure can spread across the north of England? Those are the three specific requests that I should like responses to.

As I start to wind up to allow colleagues to have their say, I must mention HS2. One of the repeated claims made against the HS2 announcement last week is that it will come at the expense of more localised services and that we should spend the cash on improving existing services. Well, the northern hub project clearly shows that both can go hand in hand: huge investment in the existing network and the added capacity and speed of HS2. In summary, the northern hub comes in at £560 million. There are £4 billion-worth of benefits and potentially 20,000 to 30,000 new jobs that would drive the northern economy forward, all for the same cost as the refurbishment of King’s Cross station.

Several hon. Members:

rose —

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Labour, Lanark and Hamilton East

Order. I inform right hon. and hon. Members that I have eight Members on my speakers’ list, plus the two Front Benchers, so I encourage a bit of brevity while making clear arguments. I intend to call the first Front Bencher at 3.40 pm.

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 2:46 pm, 18th January 2012

I congratulate Jason McCartney on securing the debate. It is apt that I should follow his contribution because my constituency follows on from his, and the line he referred to goes on into my constituency. The only time I will willingly share a platform with the hon. Gentleman is the day when we get improved capacity on the Penistone line. I look forward to that day very much indeed.

For the north of England, the northern hub project is as important as the Crossrail project is to London. In many ways, it is helpful to see the project in those terms. Between the cities of Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool, 14 million people live and work and travel. Much of the rail traffic has to go through an antiquated interchange of rail routes through Manchester and the surrounding area, and very few people—if any—in this room can have any doubt whatsoever that the northern hub project is absolutely crucial to the future of the economy in the north of England.

There is no doubt that, in the past 10 years, there has been a transformation in rail across the north of England, with more and more passengers choosing to travel by train. That modal shift, if we can describe it as such, has supported significant economic growth in the north, as people are able feasibly to commute further to work or to execute their business. However, that growth is now threatened, not only because of the reckless risks being taken with our economy by the coalition, but because of the need to modernise our infrastructure in the north of England so that we do not constrict growth and discourage investment.

Some people might ask, “Why is Manchester’s railway network so crucial to the north or the country as a whole?” I would refer back to the comments made by the hon. Member for Colne Valley to make that case. In the early days, the project was sponsored by the Northern Way—an organisation, incidentally, formed by the three regional development agencies abolished by the Government—and was called the Manchester hub, not the northern hub. Politically, the decision was taken at an early stage to rename the developing project the northern hub, because it was quickly recognised that the benefits realised were not just for Manchester but for the whole of the north of England. It was felt that if we were ever to get the project off the ground and funded by the Treasury, it had to be seen as something that benefited the whole of the north. That is why I make reference to Crossrail. As I said earlier, in a sense, the northern hub project unknots the problems with cross-country trains in a way that will impact on a population of 14 million people.

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Labour, Bolton South East

As somebody who formerly lived in the south, I am very happy about the funding for Crossrail. Is it right, though, that the benefit-cost ratio of Crossrail is 1:7, as opposed to 4:1 for the northern hub? Clearly, there is much more benefit to the northern hub than to Crossrail.

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I agree entirely with that point. The northern hub would do a great deal to help tackle the economic disparities between the south-east of England and the north.

What is the northern hub project that we have heard so much about? The hon. Member for Colne Valley illustrated it well: it is a series of works, new track and increased platform capacity in Manchester that will remove track conflicts and relieve traffic congestion. The works will allow up to 700 more trains a day, with space for 44 million more passenger journeys a year. Completion of the works will allow two new fast trains an hour to run between Manchester Victoria and Liverpool, with, as the hon. Gentleman said, six fast trains an hour between Leeds and Manchester, as opposed to four now.

Just as important for someone who represents a south Yorkshire constituency, journey times between Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester—what I have referred to in the past as the “golden triangle” of the north— will be reduced significantly. Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester are equidistant, economically important and interdependent, and we have to maximise the potential of those three great cities. I have argued previously that the present situation whereby it takes up to an hour and often longer to travel the 30 miles between Sheffield and Manchester is unacceptable. That represents a journey time not a great deal different from that experienced by our Victorian forebears—that is how little the north of England has moved forward in rail journey time and capacity in the past century. A completed northern hub would cut the journey time between Sheffield and Manchester and, importantly, would allow two more trains to run throughout the day. That will help to cut the daily overcrowding, which has already been mentioned, on cross-country routes.

The estimated cost of those improvements, as the hon. Member for Colne Valley said, is £260 million—a large sum, but not great when placed alongside the £16 billion budget for Crossrail. It is estimated that for every £1 invested, as my hon. Friend Yasmin Qureshi said a moment ago, there would be a return of £4 in economic benefits. Crucially, we need the whole of the package to deliver that economic benefit. I see the current congestion and problems in the network as a knot. To deal with the problems created by a knot, one does not half untie it. The whole knot has to be loosened and dealt with to get the benefit, and that is the important point. We have to unknot the network and deal with all the problems created by congestion around Manchester. There is no point in untying part of the knot; we have to deal with the whole problem to get the benefit.

The Chancellor’s recent autumn statement announced the Government’s intention to fast-track some elements of the northern hub project. That commitment is welcome but it goes nowhere near far enough. Work on the Ordsall chord will enable trains from Manchester airport, and Liverpool to Leeds, to use the modernised Manchester Victoria station, but that only partially answers the question of congestion in and around Manchester. The announcement to electrify the north Pennine route and the electrification of other routes around the north-west is welcome, but while that will allow lighter, more efficient trains to use those routes, it will not relieve all congestion and will not help passengers from Sheffield, and those further east on the Hope Valley line, to enjoy faster, more frequent trains. That has a massive impact on the east coast and the Humber bank. The Hope Valley line is critical to all train journeys from Cleethorpes and Grimsby through to Manchester airport, as well as Sheffield.

If the north of England is to close the economic gap with London and the south-east, it is my firm belief that this project has to be given the green light in its entirety for the next control period. The full range of benefits envisaged by the project, benefits that we know are desperately needed to help the north to grow, will not be realised unless we deliver every element of the project.

We have called for this debate today because we have been receiving worrying signals from the Minister. I pay tribute to her, which may seem unusual for an Opposition politician, for the way she has handled the High Speed 2 debate. She has shown a firm grasp of the detail and has been staunch in her commitment to the project, and I would like to see the same for the northern hub. The point made earlier, that the northern hub is critical to complementing HS2, is the important point.

On capacity in the north of England, if it is cheaper to tunnel than to dig steep embankments in the Chilterns, surely we can consider reopening the Woodhead line. It has been said to me that the tunnelling that would be required on the Woodhead line if we were to reopen it is far too expensive for the Department for Transport to consider. Let us therefore have that one back on the table while we are at it.

For many years, the north has lagged behind the south-east in rail investment. Now is the time to change that. It is time to acknowledge that transport spending for the north has lagged significantly behind that made available for London and the south-east, and that action needs to be taken to correct this unfairness in funding allocations by the Department for Transport. This is the best opportunity we have had for years to correct that situation by giving the go-ahead to this project in its entirety.

I pointed out at the start of my contribution that a completed northern hub helps not only Manchester but the rest of the north of England. I call on the Government to prioritise this work. It makes sense for the north and it makes sense for rebalancing the economy, so it makes sense for the UK as a whole.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Conservative, Hexham 2:56 pm, 18th January 2012

I will try to be a little briefer and more directly to the point. I make the fundamental point that I support the assertions in favour of the northern hub, and briefly reflect on the fact that we now have a situation where the Secretary of State is from Rotherham. Is that not a good thing, as a northerner? The Minister has been repeatedly up to Newcastle, both before and after the general election, and we have a Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend Andrew Jones, who is from Harrogate and is a former vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary rail in the north group. It is a positive step to have Ministers and parliamentarians who are genuinely interested in transport in the north, and particularly in railways.

I endorse all that has been said on HS2. That does not mean to say that we do not have to monitor the contracts, support it in the right way and monitor it so it goes well, but fundamentally it is a great thing that we have HS2 investment and the degree of investment we have had in the northern hub, with the Ordsall chord and the electrification that has taken place, which will produce extra capacity. I regularly take the train from King’s Cross to Newcastle and, on the last two occasions, far from being happy-go-lucky in first class, I have sat all the way to York outside the toilets, because that was the only place where there was any space on the floor.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Conservative, Hexham

Some would say, “Quite right, too.” I do not think that everybody else is doing that, but the point is this: all of us see, commuting as we do to the north, the degree to which there is a lack of capacity on the trains at peak times. I support wholeheartedly the work that is being done by the North East chamber of commerce, which is very supportive of the northern hub, and by the Tyne Valley community rail partnership.

I want to raise one follow-on point from the northern hub and how Northern Rail in particular is conducting itself in the north-east and in Northumberland. If colleagues will indulge me for two minutes, I will explain. “Torchgate” is not a matter that I expect the Minister to solve, but it is important that she understands the great difficulties that Northern Rail has produced. There have been a number of new carriages applied to the Northumberland lines, but a failure—the key point—to actually light the areas such that for three days we had an extra carriage on the crucial 7.42 from Hexham to Newcastle and then the union decided that it was not safe for its drivers to walk in an unlit area to change it all around. Consequently, torchgate means that, in the absence of a torch and the ability to navigate from one end of the train to the other, the train has been cancelled to the great detriment of my local residents.

Hilariously, these trains are Leyland buses on wheels. They are the original 1985 Leyland national bus, which has been turned into a train, and upgrades are welcomed greatly, but the idea that in the north of the north we are being supported by Northern Rail and that the northern hub goes that way, is genuinely not being felt by local commuters and people who utilise this service.

I am acutely conscious that other colleagues wish to get in. I urge Northern Rail to change its approach, resolve the torchgate problem, increase the capacity on the Hexham line and, generally, address the manifest failure to be flexible. I suggest that the Minister can address this. All the rail companies that we have to deal with as we develop and move forward are not looking at what the customer wants: they are working out what they want to do, not what the customer wants to do. Let me give an isolated, easy example.

A plethora of fans want to support Newcastle United or Sunderland on a match day, including Saturday. People might think that it would be obvious for a rail company to lay on extra trains or carriages to entitle people to do that and travel in the right way, but that is not happening. I urge the Minister to speak to Northern Rail about the extent to which it can become more flexible, so that we can have a better, more functional rail system.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton 3:00 pm, 18th January 2012

I will, like Guy Opperman, curtail what I was going to say. I congratulate Jason McCartney on securing the debate and agree with everything that he said. I will not attempt to repeat it, particularly when so many hon. Members want to speak.

It is worth having some context in our debate. There was roughly an 80-year decline in rail services between 1920 and 2000 and, unexpectedly, over the past 10 or 12 years, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of passengers using the railways. I am not sure that the Department for Transport has completely caught up with a system that is expanding, although I accept that it has done so in respect of HS2—I am talking about the rest of the system. The basic way to determine investment decisions during that long decline was to follow congestion, which meant simply putting money into the south-east of England.

When one justification for the huge investment that goes into rail is to close the north-south divide, one can no longer justify, if one ever could, spending 90%-odd of rail investment in London and the south-east. One way to change that is to ensure that the northern hub is completed in one go. I understand that the Treasury is assessing it over the next six to eight weeks. I should like to make the solid case for the whole northern hub going forward, for the reasons that my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) and other hon. Members have stated. Detailed points need to be made about why the hub will not be as effective if it does not all go together as one.

I welcomed the previous Secretary of State’s statement to go ahead with the Ordsall chord, which is part of the northern hub. But if the whole system does not go together, there will be a reduction in services to Huddersfield, because unless an extra line is put in at Diggle to take the trains past it—I am sure that northern Ministers in the Department will be familiar with the railway lines there—the extra trains on the Ordsall curve will mean a reduction in trains on that route. If such details, including whether the chord will be there if the size of station platforms is not increased, are not dealt with, we will not get the benefit from the investment in the Ordsall chord.

Both in detail and in general terms, now is the time for the Government to say, as they have said, “We are going to try and do something about the north-south divide”, and that means investing in the rail system. Half a billion pounds is never a trivial amount, but compared to the amount going into Crossrail it may seem to be. I disagree slightly with my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge, because this is not the equivalent of Crossrail. We do not have such an equivalent. This is more the equivalent of Thameslink, which frees up capacity in the south-east, and even there it is still only 10% of the cost of Thameslink.

With a benefit-cost ratio of 4:1, the Government should be grabbing at the scheme. There are potentially 44 million passenger places on 700 trains. There will be enormous economic benefit to the whole of the north of England. I hope that the Minister assures us that she and her colleagues will press the Treasury and ensure that, in the next high level output specifications period, we get the full northern hub scheme.

Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Conservative, Pudsey 3:05 pm, 18th January 2012

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hood. I congratulate my hon. Friend Jason McCartney on securing this important debate.

We have talked about a number of transport issues in this Chamber in the past two years. It is becoming a regular occurrence that I enjoy immensely. Credit to the Government, because there has, in fairness, been some real investment in infrastructure projects in the north of England, which was sadly lacking for many years. For example, two new rail stations in my constituency have been announced; there is M62 investment; and the south access to Leeds railway station means that there is an opportunity to expand economic development in the south of the city.

HS2 is a real vote of confidence for the north. The Y route was one of the best decisions made, particularly for those of us in Yorkshire. We must not miss that opportunity. We have to plan for its arrival now. Throughout the HS2 debate, many of those opposing it were saying, “Once it comes, it will suck life out of the region.” It is important that we get this right and solve that problem before it occurs. I do not want them to be proved right.

We have talked lots about travelling from the north to the south, but we do not seem to talk enough about getting from east to west. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) established the all-party group on east-west rail and three days later got funding for it, which is a phenomenal achievement. If we could do the same in the north, we would be grateful.

The economy of the north has changed enormously.

Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Conservative, Brigg and Goole

Talk about east-west travel is often about going from Leeds to Manchester, but there is Yorkshire and the Humber beyond—further east. I remind my hon. Friend of connectivity into Hull and, on the south bank, through to Cleethorpes. People in that area are in the golden square of Goole, Cleethorpes, Scunthorpe and Hull. The fact that Network Rail is considering electrification through to Hull is welcome and I hope that the Minister will work hard to achieve it, too.

Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Conservative, Pudsey

My hon. Friend never ceases to remind us that Yorkshire goes further east than Leeds. I support his comments.

Photo of Karl McCartney Karl McCartney Conservative, Lincoln

Please do not forget Lincolnshire either, and Lincoln.

Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Conservative, Pudsey

It has nothing to do with me; it is up to the Minister.

Thinking about the economy, my constituency comprises old mill towns. The mills have now gone and people now travel much further to go to work. We have excellent, vibrant cities and towns in the north of England. We have a horrible reputation of wearing cloth caps and so on, but some vibrant work is going on.

I am proud that Leeds, Harrogate, York, Wakefield and Bradford are working together in the Leeds city region, ensuring that they are making the best of what we have. The chamber of commerce has now linked together with Leeds and north Yorkshire. But we need to work even more widely, so that Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, York, Sheffield and Hull can take up the opportunities that are there. However, there is an obstacle: the current network is struggling. There are more passengers on our railways, more cars on our roads and more freight on the motorways. We need to make it easier to get around.

My mother visited me recently and wanted to get over to Chester to see the rest of her family. Trying to plan her journey from Leeds to Chester was ridiculous, because she would have had to make a number of changes and spend a long time on platforms waiting for connecting trains.

Not so long ago, when I went on a Select Committee visit to Wrexham, I thought I would be good and get the train back to Leeds. It took me four and a half hours on five different trains, by which time all the officials from the Select Committee had got back to London. It is ridiculous that I cannot make a journey that would take an hour and a half by car in a similar time on the train.

Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart Conservative, Milton Keynes South

My hon. Friend touches on an important point, because if we are serious about wanting to achieve a modal shift from car to rail, we have to look at the whole journey time. If I visit him, I can get quickly from Milton Keynes to Manchester by train, but it takes as long again to get from Manchester to Leeds, so it is actually quicker for me to drive up. If we want to achieve that modal shift, we have to look at the whole journey time.

Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Conservative, Pudsey

That is exactly why the northern hub is so crucial. It represents a recognition that we have to fuel and drive the economy to help us to rebalance it from public to private. We have already heard about all the benefits from my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley, so I will not list them, but it is important to acknowledge that businesses back the proposal. They say that it is essential to their growth and increased prosperity, because they will be able to access bigger markets and attract a wider pool of talent.

We have already said that we do not want to choose between HS2 and the northern hub—we need both. The case for the northern hub is now greater because of the commitment on HS2. Frankly, the north deserves both, and it is an essential part of HS2. The Minister has listened in the past, and we have had new stations, new access and electrification, so I hope that she will listen again. She should be proud of the fact that this issue has united Lancashire and Yorkshire, and the people of the north, in their submission for funding.

Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Chair, Transport Committee 3:12 pm, 18th January 2012

I congratulate Jason McCartney on securing the debate, which comes at an important time. Network Rail is looking in detail at the northern hub proposals. The Government have asked Network Rail to revisit the proposals before any final decisions are taken to ensure that the scheme will bring value for money. It is extremely important that we are able not only to talk about the importance of the northern hub, but to show the degree of cross-party support and the spread of geographical support for this major scheme.

I emphasise the importance of the northern hub as a strategic investment in the north. The proposals came from big, strategic thinking. The three northern regional development agencies came together and thought about how the regional economies could be improved, which led to the setting up of the Northern Way and the development of the schemes for the northern hub. Today we are looking at the detail and reaching the final stages of approval.

The northern hub is about individual projects and individual areas. It is about additional platforms and tracks, and it is hopefully about new trains. It will affect a wide variety of places—Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Newcastle and Hull, to name but a few—and it will improve access to Manchester airport. In my constituency, people will be able to get from Liverpool to Manchester in half an hour, and trains to Leeds will take 80 minutes. In addition, there will be more of them. Those are great improvements, which will be of great assistance in developing Liverpool’s potential.

The northern hub is about more than simply individual areas, however, important though it is for each area named. It involves investment of half a billion pounds, which will lead to a £4 billion boost for the northern economies, with the potential for the creation of 20,000 to 30,000 jobs. That massive investment of half a billion pounds will have a significant outcome. As hon. Members have mentioned, it lies beside the £14.8 billion investment in Crossrail, just under £5 billion of which comes directly from the Government. A recent study of the regional pattern of investment in transport showed that about three times as much was invested on a per-head basis in transport in the south and south-east as in the north.

Photo of David Mowat David Mowat Conservative, Warrington South

On the point about the difference in spend between the north and the south, the hon. Lady may have seen in the Transport Committee the report from the Institute for Public Policy Research, which evaluates the projects that the Government brought forward in the spending review in the autumn. Infrastructure spending amounted to £30 billion, and the spend per head was £2,700 in London, £134 in the north-west, £200 in Leeds and Humberside, and £5 in the north-east.

Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Chair, Transport Committee

I have seen that report. It is significant that we register such great disparities, but it is even more important that we try to do something about them, and the northern hub represents a major opportunity to do that. The Transport Committee has taken a particular interest in the northern hub, which we refer to as an important proposal in our report on transport and the economy and our report on high-speed rail.

The Committee supports high-speed rail, but we registered a number of concerns, including about the importance of ensuring that investment in necessary high-speed rail did not take place at the expense of investment in the existing, classic line. We cited the importance of investing in the northern hub and invited the Government to demonstrate their commitment to investing in the existing line by investing in both the northern hub and high-speed rail. Perhaps they will soon be asked to show their position on the matter and to demonstrate their commitment to investing in the existing line.

Photo of Julian Sturdy Julian Sturdy Conservative, York Outer

The hon. Lady makes a powerful case for HS2, and if we are to make high-speed rail a success, we need investment in the northern hub. If we are to bring passengers up to the north more quickly, do we not also have to ensure that we invest in connectivity so that the system that high-speed rail passengers continue their journey on is not antiquated? Otherwise, the system will not work.

Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Chair, Transport Committee

I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. We want modern, new rail, not only on the new High Speed 2 line but on existing lines and connections, and investing in the northern hub as a separate project is one way to achieve that.

At the moment, Network Rail is assessing the detail of the northern hub proposals and looking at value for money. That needs to be done, but it is absolutely essential to recognise the strategic importance of this investment in rail in the north. The Government’s commitment to rail electrification in the north is much appreciated, but it is not an alternative to proceeding with the northern hub. I await with interest their final decision on the northern hub, and I ask the Minister to assure us that she recognises the strategic importance of investing in the north and to commit to the investment in the northern hub.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Labour, Lanark and Hamilton East 3:33 pm, 18th January 2012

Order. I will be calling the Opposition spokesman no later than 5 minutes to 4. The debate will now finish at 4.15, as opposed to 4 o’clock.

Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Chair, Transport Committee

Thank you, Mr Hood.

I hope that the Minister can give us an assurance today that she recognises the importance of the northern hub as a strategic transport investment to improve connectivity and economy. I hope that she can give us an additional assurance that, after due consideration, the scheme will be approved.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Liberal Democrat, Southport 3:34 pm, 18th January 2012

I congratulate Jason McCartney on stimulating this important debate, and I pay tribute to other contributors, in particular Graham Stringer, who has fought a long and relentless battle to get the northern hub on the political agenda. I think it can be accepted that to get Merseyside MPs such as myself and Mrs Ellman to advocate serious investment in Manchester takes something special, and it is due to a recognition that the Manchester network is a bottleneck for the whole north, affecting Leeds, Sheffield, Chester, Liverpool, Lancashire, Yorkshire and various golden triangles, squares and rectangles as yet unenumerated. The effect on the north is widespread, and my constituents in Southport are affected too; their journeys to Manchester are a nightmare, they suffer overcrowding not only on the train but at the platform in Manchester and they suffer the most appalling stock and the most appalling service.

On 20 October, at the northern rail conference, the Minister said, rather encouragingly, that we were going to get rid of the Pacers. We have heard that refrain before, and people have mentioned cascading stock down and so on, but in reality new trains are found first, foremost and almost exclusively for the south-east. The feeling in the north sometimes is that it is jam tomorrow, and I regard High Speed 2 as jam tomorrow or some way in the distance. Collectively, as northern MPs, however, we all want serious incremental change now. We want the better links with London, which would certainly be a good thing, but currently we desperately need better inter-regional connectivity.

I praise the Government and the Minister for having made a good start. To my great astonishment, we have seen the introduction of new rail in the north-west with the Todmorden curve, and £300 million has been found for electrification and £85 million for the Ordsall chord. The total Government commitment for rail is, however, actually £18 billion, and the whole northern hub project has been costed at £560 million, as Members have said, which puts things in perspective. Hon. Members have pointed out that the benefit-cost ratio exceeds comfortably the figures presented for Crossrail, which is costing about £6 billion. I speak with real bitterness because I was sentenced to two years, for crimes unknown, to serve on the hybrid Crossrail Bill. I was surprised at the many substantial objections to the scheme, which, had it been in the north, would certainly have postponed it, if not altogether eliminated it.

The Secretary of State for Transport has, however, said some encouraging things. She has spoken about investing in 2,700 new carriages throughout the network, but as I pointed out, that will only lead to a weary shrug from the man trapped on the Pacer. I went through some of my e-mails on the subject recently, and I want to refer briefly to two of them. A chap wrote to me in 2008 and said:

“Regularly there are only two carriages laid on and it is standing room before we have left the station. Breakdowns …particularly in winter are a feature attraction of the service however given the age of the trains this is unsurprising. When will there be some newer trains on this line?”

Four years later, another e-mail begins wearily:

“Yet again my journey on a Monday morning has been delayed by over an hour by the poor quality rolling stock used on the Southport to Manchester line…This is on top of the regular short formation of units, which appears to be a Northern Rail buzz phrase”— a synonym for serious overcrowding.

I therefore welcome the progress that might be made on the northern hub, and we would all like to see more progress. I like the sound of a united or pan-northern approach, which is important, because it has not always been there in previous Parliaments and it is refreshing. Often, the objection to serious infrastructure is the lack of collective political will in an area, but cross-party, substantial and solid political will is clearly present. We do not need a Napoleonic regional mayor to step in and tell us what needs doing. Collectively, as politicians, we have come to the conclusion that this needs doing, and we would just like the Minister to get on with it.

Photo of Julie Hilling Julie Hilling Labour, Bolton West 3:39 pm, 18th January 2012

I congratulate Jason McCartney on securing this debate, and on his commitment in campaigning for the northern hub. It is wonderful to see so many hon. Members from across the north in the Chamber, and one or two additional supporters who are more than welcome in our fight. As chair of the all-party group on rail in the north, I am pleased to see so many members of the group here. Hon. Members across parties are united on the issue of the northern hub. We are divided only by the Pennines, which are another reason why the whole hub must be united—so that we do not have the perpetual Pennine divide.

The Minister can judge how important the issue is for all of us, and how crucial it is that the whole hub be funded. We will not have the full economic benefit across the whole north if there is a piecemeal approach. I was worried recently when the Secretary of State talked about the welcome electrification of the Manchester-York line as part of the northern hub. I do not want to split hairs, but electrification was always seen as an addition to the hub, and not as the hub itself. It is essential not to lose part of the hub to that electrification, welcome though it is. It is the hub that will hold us all together.

The hub is not glamorous like High Speed 2, but it is essential if we are to tackle overcrowding, increase line speed, reduce journey times and increase services. It is an integral part of High Speed 2. I speak from bitter experience. When Virgin high-frequency trains were introduced with three trains an hour from Manchester to London, services to my constituency diminished.

The trains terminated at Manchester Victoria, and we lost services to the airport and elsewhere because inter-city trains took the paths that our trains had previously taken. The only way to prevent that in future is to ensure that the engineering works proposed for the hub are carried out.

We will have more trains through and to Manchester, and more trains will connect to the west coast main line. Eventually, trains will connect to High Speed 2. That unglamorous engineering work will provide passing places so that we continue to have slow, stopping services with fast services. It will improve signalling, the Ordsall chord route across Manchester city, and Manchester Victoria station. Any hon. Members who have spent time at that station will know that it is not the nicest in the world, and I as a woman do not feel particularly safe there. There will be improvements at the station, and two new platforms at Manchester Piccadilly.

Such improvements are as important to the north as the shiny new 250 mph train, and will be to the whole economy. Services will not then stop completely at Manchester Piccadilly when the Huddersfield train leaves, because it crosses every train path coming into the station, with the result that nothing else can come in and out. Constituents in Bolton will have a better, faster service, and people at my home station, Atherton, will not have to play sardines on the train, or have long waits at another gruesome station, Salford Crescent. They will be able to join the inter-city lines.

The project will bring £4 of benefit for every pound spent, and will do something to redress the imbalance between spending in the north and south. I do not understand why Londoners should have three times as much taxpayers’ money spent on their public transport as our constituents in the north.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton

During the debate I have done some arithmetic, which I believe is right, and which my hon. Friend may be interested in. Three months’ expenditure on Crossrail would pay for the whole northern hub. Is that not extraordinary?

Photo of Julie Hilling Julie Hilling Labour, Bolton West

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, which is interesting. It has been interesting during the High Speed 2 debate that people have frowned about putting so much money into the north, and people in the south-west have rightly asked why they are not receiving expenditure. There never seems to be an outcry about expenditure in London. I spend part of my life in London and before becoming an MP, I wanted to come to our capital city. Investment is needed in London, but it is also needed in the regions.

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Labour, Bolton South East

I am sure that hon. Members here have no problem with investment in rail projects throughout the country. HS2 has come in at £500 million more expensive than originally projected. The northern hub itself would cost that sort of money. Does my hon. Friend agree that it should not be too difficult to find funding for the northern hub?

Photo of Julie Hilling Julie Hilling Labour, Bolton West

I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. Of course, it is not easy to find money, and I agree that it is good that the Government have protected some of the investment in rail. We all welcome that, but the issue is not an either/or. It is not all right to say that we can have part of the hub. If the whole north—the north-west, Yorkshire and Humberside, and the north-east—is to benefit, the whole hub must be developed. I am worried that the approach will be piecemeal.

As hon. Members have said, we need connectivity between our great cities, and the ability to travel across the country. We must consider the cost of having so much road traffic because rail travel is not adequate. As some of us have been saying for some time, it is quicker to drive from Manchester to Leeds than to take the train. It is quicker to drive from Milton Keynes to Leeds than to take the train. That is ludicrous, and we need the project to alter that. Like every hon. Member in the Chamber, I plead with the Minister to fund the northern hub in full, so that we will have rail connectivity between our great cities and receive the investment the north so badly needs.

Photo of Rosie Cooper Rosie Cooper Labour, West Lancashire 3:46 pm, 18th January 2012

It is a pleasure, Mr Hood, to have the opportunity to serve under your chairmanship today. I congratulate Jason McCartney on securing this important debate. It is even more important following the recent announcement to give the go-ahead to High Speed 2. That announcement is a signal of just how important investment in high-speed, efficient rail services is for the future growth of our national and regional economies. I absolutely support the northern hub as an important strategic investment and opportunity.

In that context, I want to be slightly more parochial and to plead that places and communities such as West Lancashire should not be forgotten when planning and investing in our railways. The danger for West Lancashire is that we lose out because of the dominance of the city regions and core cities that act almost as capitals. The effectiveness of such schemes lies in connectivity and the quality of the entire rail network. West Lancashire is virtually at the crossroads of the north-west. If big circles are drawn around Preston, Liverpool and Manchester, West Lancashire is the bit in the middle. My plea in this debate and the wider debate on transport infrastructure investment is not to forget West Lancashire.

Since being elected in 2005, I have campaigned constantly for improved rail infrastructure across all areas of my constituency. My great concern is that places such as West Lancashire are in real danger of falling behind with rail infrastructure. I shall give a couple of brief examples. Skelmersdale is the most populated town in my constituency, but it has no rail service at all. A major redevelopment of the town centre is about to start and is the biggest investment since it was established 50 years ago. We have a brand new state-of-the-art college, and the town has an exciting new future with many opportunities, if people can get there.

The really good news for the north-west is the Lancashire triangle rail electrification, which will be transformational for the north-west. West Lancashire has three lines serving the area, and I ask the Minister to remember that our biggest town, Skelmersdale, has no rail service at all. Delivery of the Lancashire triangle rail electrification will leave West Lancashire in a strange position, because diesel trains will still run in a small area unless more investment is put into the electrification.

If nothing is done, there will be implications on rail development in West Lancashire. For example, the Manchester line carries an increasing number of passengers, with alternate trains going to Victoria and Manchester airport. Transport for Greater Manchester appears to be suggesting that the airport service may be sacrificed in favour of running trains from West Yorkshire and east Manchester to the airport. The Kirkby to Wigan line passes through Up Holland, which would form the basis of a rail station at Skelmersdale. That line was proposed for electrification in the early 1980s, and there is clearly a need to extend the existing Merseyrail service from Liverpool to Kirkby to serve Skelmersdale. That would provide an opportunity to consider a service between Skelmersdale, Wigan and Manchester, and that should be done because it is likely that many of the employment opportunities for those who live in West Lancashire will be found in Liverpool and Manchester.

My third example is the route between Liverpool, Ormskirk and Preston. Ormskirk has a superb service to Liverpool; the line from Ormskirk to Preston has recently received an improved timetable, and Network Rail is examining the business case for an hourly service. There is, however, strong demand to extend the existing Merseyrail service beyond Ormskirk to Burscough and the famous Burscough curves. That would enable an hourly service to Preston to be delivered at low cost.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Liberal Democrat, Southport

Does the hon. Lady recognise that the Government are taking a huge step in restoring the Todmorden curve? It shows that they are ready to look at such projects and provides some hope that the Burscough curves will receive serious consideration.

Photo of Rosie Cooper Rosie Cooper Labour, West Lancashire

I did not quite hear all of that, but I am hopeful that a service on the Burscough curves will eventually be established. My point is that all three routes that I have mentioned will be operating in an area that is dominated by electric services. Electric trains run only where the line is electrified, so unless the trains have an additional power source that will enable them to continue for some distance, West Lancashire runs the risk of becoming isolated.

As well as the new electric trains on the newly electrified Lancashire triangle—well, not new exactly, but second-hand from the London area—the superb Merseyrail electric network also uses third-rail electrification. If lines in my area are not electrified and with the investment to improve the national and regional rail network infrastructure, my fear is that places such as West Lancashire will be left behind, which we cannot afford for a plethora of social and economic reasons. Such a move would begin to create greater disconnection and disintegration of the rail network. The challenge for me, West Lancashire and, I hope, the Minister is to ensure that West Lancashire does not become ever more isolated as a small island of diesel trains that are not included in the great opportunities and investment that is taking place.

Photo of John Woodcock John Woodcock Shadow Minister (Transport) 3:53 pm, 18th January 2012

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hood, and I, too, congratulate Jason McCartney on securing this important debate. How strongly Members from across the north feel about this issue has been highlighted by the strength and number of contributions that we have heard today. It is important that voices from both sides of the Pennines and from otherwise rival areas of Yorkshire and the north-west are heard speaking as one on this issue. Although many of the physical works of the northern hub programme fall to the west of the Pennines, the benefits of the hub would be felt across the whole of the north. I can contribute to that discussion because I am a Sheffield lad whose north-west constituency, although in Cumbria, still harks back to its routes in Lancashire in the old days.

As Members have pointed out, the rail network could play a significant role in securing economic growth in the north of England. As has been highlighted, however, that potential is currently limited by pinch points and other capacity restraints across the network that limit the frequency of trains, raise journey times and reduce reliability. As my hon. Friend Angela Smith said so well, the northern rail network reflects the needs of its 19th-century creators and the rivalries of Victorian railway companies. It is not fit for purpose in the different economic reality of the early 21st century.

Members from all parties have pointed out the benefits that the northern hub could provide, which include 700 extra trains per day running across the north, improved connectivity between major regional economic hubs, which would give those areas a chance to grow still further and provide vital regeneration, and the creation of up to 30,000 jobs.

Improving links between northern cities and the capital is important, which is why the previous Labour Government delivered the upgrade to the west coast main line and why we want a greater commitment to a new high-speed line serving Manchester and Leeds than the Government have given so far. If we are serious about rebalancing the UK economy and driving the growth that will return the country to long-term prosperity, we must not focus simply on travel between regions. Travel within regions, including northern regions, is also important, and that is seen in the strength of feeling and unity that has been displayed during this debate.

There are some positive things. We welcome the electrification and high-speed rail initiatives in which the new Administration are sticking to the commitments made by the previous one. Question marks and concerns remain in certain areas, but perhaps they are for another debate—I would be delighted if such a discussion could be scheduled for the near future.

The Ordsall chord is a useful piece of infrastructure, but as the hon. Member for Colne Valley highlighted, as long as Manchester Piccadilly has just two through platforms—as most hon. Members will be aware, those two platforms are unpleasantly cramped and overcrowded, and frequently cause delays to trains—the ability to use that station to deliver additional journey opportunities will be severely limited.

Announcing the electrification of the route from York to Manchester via Leeds is a positive move, but without the extra lines and loops to allow express trains to overtake stopping services and freight trains, as proposed in the northern hub, it will be hard to deliver extra services or significantly faster journeys. Ministers are obviously right to examine carefully the scope and scale of projects such as the northern hub before approving them, and it is essential to achieve best value for money. It is also, however, essential that the issues faced by the rail network in the north are addressed strategically and not in a piecemeal fashion.

Now is the time to commit to this scheme. The sooner that it is achieved, the sooner the boost to growth can be felt where it is urgently needed. In their spending priorities, the Government chose to back-load the cuts to rail investment, in contrast to other areas of spending. The bulk of the proposed cuts fall in the final two years of the spending review period, the second of which represents the first year of Network Rail’s control period 5, during which the bulk of the northern hub schemes would be delivered.

The Government are committed to finding almost £1.3 billion of efficiency savings and cuts from the Network Rail and passenger rail budgets over the period of the comprehensive spending review, although the National Audit Office has warned, understandably and rightly, that great uncertainty over where the axe will fall still remains. That is why the continued silence on this project is deeply concerning: as we can see, the lean period for rail investment is fast approaching.

Ministers have consistently said that the case for the northern hub is strong. They are well aware of the business case showing a return of £4 for every £1 invested in the scheme. Today’s debate has shown that hon. Members of all parties from across the north recognise the necessity of the extra capacity, new links and faster journeys that the northern hub will provide. I therefore hope that the Minister will make it clear that she recognises that, if we deal with the scheme in parts and do not implement the full package, the overall cost-benefit ratio will be significantly diminished. Will she make it clear whether she will commit to the full package of improvements provided by the northern hub project appearing in the high-level output specification for control period 5 when it is published this summer?

It is, of course, also important that the northern hub plans reflect the changing environment on the railways and are delivered on in the most efficient way possible, so can the Minister confirm that the Government are examining whether the package of measures can be revised to deliver equal benefit at potentially lower cost in the light of recent announcements on trans-Pennine electrification?

Confidence that the region’s transport infrastructure will be able to cope with the demands placed on it is an essential part of producing the confidence needed to secure investment, jobs and economic growth across the north. The northern hub would help to provide that. That is why we are urging Ministers today to give it their full support.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Minister of State, Department for Transport 4:01 pm, 18th January 2012

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Hood. This has been a great debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Jason McCartney on securing it. This issue is clearly of great importance to the big turnout of hon. Members who are here today and to their constituents. Throughout my time with the transport brief, both in

opposition and in government, I have been impressed by the determination of the MPs and the stakeholders behind the northern hub project. Indeed, one of my first regional visits as Minister was to meet a group of them in Manchester soon after the coalition was formed.

As we have heard today, there is much support for the northern hub project. We heard the gracious support of the Chairman of the Select Committee on Transport, Mrs Ellman, representing the views of her Committee. We also heard support expressed across party lines. There was even trans-Pennine solidarity, which is not something that we get on every issue. I am told that this issue even unites east, west, south and north Yorkshire. Again, not many issues do that. Last but not least, John Pugh commented on how dramatic it was that the issue had united Liverpool and Manchester in support.

I commend the evidence-based approach that those behind the northern hub project have taken in pressing the case for the hub and for improvements in rail and other forms of transport in the north generally. Many hon. Members emphasised the importance of finding ways to bridge the prosperity gap between north and south, and I completely agree that improving our transport infrastructure is an important way to achieve that goal. The Government fully appreciate the economic benefits that improving our transport system can generate. That point was emphasised by many hon. Members: my hon. Friend Graham Stringer and my hon. Friend Guy Opperman, to name but a few. We recognise the economic benefits that can be generated by investing in the north specifically as well.

That is why we have placed a priority on improving the rail network even when budgets are severely limited by the pressing need to deal with the deficit. Therefore, as well as going ahead with the high-speed rail network, we have embarked on what is probably the biggest programme of rail improvements since the Victorian era. Those ambitious plans include a number of major projects in the north of England. Many have been mentioned and welcomed today, not least the new stations at Kirkstall Forge and Apperley Bridge, highlighted by my hon. Friend Stuart Andrew.

Our programme also includes important elements of the northern hub project. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley and others, the Ordsall chord is going ahead. That new stretch of railway linking Victoria and Piccadilly—two of Manchester’s busiest stations—has been talked about since the 1960s, I am told, and will deliver benefits to the whole of the north of England by substantially reducing journey times between Liverpool and Leeds.

The electrification of the North TransPennine route between Manchester and Leeds through to York and the east coast line will also deliver important benefits. Strictly speaking, that was not part of the original northern hub scheme, but it was prioritised by the rail industry in its initial plan, which it drew up recently. The combined effect of North TransPennine electrification, the Ordsall chord and line-speed improvements that are already part of the CP4 programme will see journey times between Liverpool and Newcastle cut by as much as 45 minutes.

These programmes are already starting to provide the improved connectivity within the region, between the cities of the north of England, that many hon. Members have rightly highlighted as crucial if the economy in the north is to flourish. Angela Smith, and my hon. Friends the Members for Pudsey and for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) emphasised that point. The improvements will also promote the modal shift that a number of hon. Members highlighted as important.

Virtually every hon. Member who spoke emphasised the importance to the northern economy of implementing the package in full during the 2014-2019 railway control period. Those hon. Members included Julie Hilling, who is the chairman of the all-party group on rail in the north, my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley and the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton.

As the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside, the Chairman of the Select Committee, acknowledged, Network Rail is as we speak considering in detail all the remaining elements of the hub that have yet to be funded. The Government have asked it to do that to assist us in the decisions that we will make in the summer. There are about nine individual packages. Network Rail is considering, at a more detailed level, the business case for the whole project, as well as for all those nine individual elements. This is, therefore, a timely debate—a good opportunity for the House to contribute to the Government’s thinking on this matter.

Photo of Julie Hilling Julie Hilling Labour, Bolton West

I am slightly puzzled. The argument is that the whole of the hub gives the 4:1 benefit ratio. There is a possibility, of course, that one little place may give less benefit than another bit, but all together the benefit ratio is 4:1. Given what the Minister is saying, is there a risk that a part that has a lower cost-value ratio but still a value will be overlooked?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Minister of State, Department for Transport

As I said, we have asked Network Rail to consider in greater detail the value-for-money case for the whole project—all elements of it—because we believe that it is very important to consider very thoroughly all the elements of the northern hub. That view is confirmed by the strong support expressed by hon. Members today.

With input from train operators and the passenger transport executives, Network Rail needs to establish the impact that North TransPennine electrification will have on the original hub proposals. It may be that the eventual package put forward by Network Rail, the industry and the PTEs to achieve the goals of the northern hub is somewhat different from the original 2009 proposals. We will obviously have to consider carefully the input that we get from the industry groups and from the PTEs in the relevant areas before we make final decisions on the matter. I fully appreciate how much support there is for going ahead with the whole package and I fully appreciate the benefits that it could deliver. I can assure the House that the Government will consider the northern hub package as a whole as well as its individual elements when we make our decisions on HLOS2 and the CP5 period this summer.

My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley wanted me to pre-empt that process and make the decision today. I am afraid that I will have to disappoint him, but

I can assure him that we will consider the matter with great care in the run-up to our announcement on HLOS2 and the CP5 period in the summer. Whether we can fund the whole programme in CP5 depends on what is affordable within available budgets. We will also need to assess the case for improvements elsewhere in the country to determine which projects can be given priority. Of course we want to fund as many projects that promote economic growth as possible, but we also need to ensure that the Government’s overall finances are not overstretched in these difficult times. Given the competing demands on limited taxpayer funding, it is vital that the overall cost of running the railways and the cost of such upgrades come down. If we can achieve the kind of savings that Sir Ray McNulty said were possible in his report last year, it will become much easier to deliver the improvements that passengers want.

We will be publishing a Command Paper on the reform that we need to see costs come down on the railways, thus improving value for money for both passengers and taxpayers. The more inefficiency that we can take out of the railways, the greater the scope for delivering infrastructure upgrades and additional services.

Naturally, today’s debate has focused primarily on improvements to the conventional rail network in the north. The projects that we have given the go-ahead to in the north will complement our proposals on high-speed rail. I welcome the support that has been expressed today by a number of hon. Members for the Government’s high-speed rail proposals. The Secretary of State for Transport was very clear that her decision was to go ahead with the whole Y network to Manchester and Leeds and not just the London to Birmingham leg. HS2 can potentially complement the improvement of local and regional services. For example, Centro produced an analysis that said that the benefits of HS2 to Birmingham could be significantly increased, with improvements to the local and regional transport network in the west midlands. It is quite important to consider whether the commitment to the Y network to the north of England might further strengthen the case for the northern hub package because of its potential to spread the benefits of high-speed rail more quickly and more widely around the north of England.

In the last few minutes available to me, I want to pick up on some of the more specific questions raised in the debate today. My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley expressed concern about the future of services to Mossley, Greenfield, Marsden and Slaithwaite. Before the announcement on the electrification of the North TransPennine route, some suggestions were made on the future of those services and whether some stations between Stalybridge and Huddersfield might end up with fewer stops. The electrification announcement means that Network Rail will need to review this matter and the capacity on the route. My hon. Friend made it clear that no decision on this has been made as yet. It will not be made for some time and it will be made only after an appropriate public consultation.

The hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge has again called for the reopening of the Woodhead route. I have to say that that was not one that was prioritised as part of the northern hub because of the capacity that is still available on the Hope Valley line.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham and the hon. Members for Southport and for Blackley and Broughton all expressed concern about crowding in the north of England and the balance of spending between north and south. I remind the House of the importance of the additional capacity that the Government are introducing through the HLOS programme.

The northern hub has achieved a significant amount of support. I commend the evidence that has been produced by the supporters of the project. It will be useful to the Government when they make their decision. We will be listening with care to the views of all those in the north of England who are promoting this project when we make our decisions on what rail upgrade we can take forward in the next railway control period.