An in-depth look at the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP)


What is the Integrated Rail Plan?

The Integrated Rail Plan is a strategy published by the Department of Transport which sets out £96 billion worth of investment into the railways of the North and the Midlands. The ultimate aim of the Plan is to facilitate economic growth by transforming East-West and North-South rail links and the associated socio-economic benefits this will bring to communities across the country.

What is contained within the Integrated Rail Plan?

 The Government confirmed its commitment to building three new- high speed lines which covers:

  • HS2 West will run from London to Manchester in 1 hour 11 minutes and from Birmingham to Manchester in 41 to 51 minutes, compared to 86 minutes today
  • HS2 East will run direct from central Nottingham to Birmingham in 26 minutes, down from 1 hour 14 minutes now, and from central Nottingham to London in 57 minutes. HS2 will also run from London to Sheffield in 1 hour 27 minutes
  • Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), which will connect Leeds and Manchester in 33 minutes, down from 55 minutes now

Plans were also announced in relation to electrifying and upgrading existing three main lines:

  • Upgrades and improvements of line speed on the East Coast Mainline
  • The Midland Mainline between London St Pancras, the East Midlands and Sheffield
  • The Transpennine Mainline between Manchester, Leeds and York

 Plans to improve local transport services included:

  • Progressing options to complete the Midlands Rail Hub focussing on improving links to Hereford, Worcester and Coventry
  • Proceeding with work on a mass transit network for Leeds and West Yorkshire along with electrification of the direct line between Leeds and Bradford
  • Accelerating improvements at Toton (dependent on securing private sector investment)
  • Protecting and improving services to cities and towns on the existing main lines
  • £360 million invested to radically reform and overhaul rail passengers’ experience of fares, ticketing and retailing

How does this differ to previous plans?

Initially, the high speed line was due to be extended from the West Midlands to Leeds which would have cut journey times between London and Leeds to 1 hour and 21 minutes – under the current plans HS2 will now be built as far as East Midlands Parkway station (approximately six miles south-west of Nottingham). Plans to connect the West Midlands and Manchester via Crewe  remain unchanged.

In terms of Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), in June 2021, Transport for the North had recommended that new lines be built between Liverpool and Leeds via Manchester and Bradford. Under the new proposals, a new line will be built between Warrington, Cheshire and Marsden in West Yorkshire. It was also announced that existing lines on the rest of the route between Liverpool and Leeds would be upgraded.

What does this mean for Greater Birmingham?

Despite the Eastern leg of HS2 being scrapped, HS2 trains will continue to the East Midlands and the Government reaffirmed its commitment to the Midlands Rail Hub project. The Rail Hub, if delivered in full, would help to create space for millions more passenger seats on the railway annually and would play an important part in improving connectivity to Birmingham Moor Street station. In particular, the Rail Hub is expected to open up access to HS2 for communities in Hereford, Worcester and Bristol via Curzon Street Station (the so called ‘Western side’ of the Rail Hub).

What is the GBCC’s position on the Integrated Rail Plan?

There were many eye-catching announcements included in the long awaited release of the Integrated Rail Plan however we cannot get away from the bitter disappointment that HS2 will not be delivered in full as originally promised by the Prime Minister. In particular, we feel it’s a missed opportunity – delivering the project in its entirety would have freed up more capacity on local networks and it would have taken more freight off our congested road networks – essentially bringing about substantial environmental benefits. Despite the commitment of extending high speed lines to Nottingham, there’s no doubt that cancelling the High Speed track to Leeds will result in significantly longer journeys to the North-East and Scotland.

Here in Birmingham we’ve seen first-hand the wider investment and job creation that the commitment to HS2 has brought to our region and let’s not forget the number of local areas away from the line of route that stand to benefit from the project. We appreciate the economic landscape has drastically changed as a result of the pandemic and a £96bn fiscal commitment is hugely welcomed (although much of it is repackaged from previous programmes) – however, delivering HS2 in full would have acted as a catalyst for ‘levelling up’ in practice and spread prosperity across all four corners of the country – ultimately, it remains to be seen whether these new plans will have the same desired impact.

From a local perspective, Greater Birmingham is still in a strong position to benefit from today’s announcements and we look forward to finding out more about the Government’s commitment to the Midlands Rail Hub – a project which has received positive backing from the local business community for a number of years. Nevertheless, it was concerning to see very little reference to the Eastern leg of the Rail Hub given the capacity constraints that continue to exist between Birmingham, Nuneaton and Leicester for example. In addition, the extension of the timeframes associated with the delivery of HS2 remain a concern – we need a concerted effort to accelerate the delivery of these projects to ensure local businesses starts to reap the benefits as quickly as possible.