Northern Powerhouse Rail | Business plan setback ‘won’t necessarily delay’ construction

Posted on 19 February 2021

Northern Powerhouse Rail | Business plan setback ‘won’t necessarily delay’ construction

The delay to the submission of the business plan for Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) “won’t necessarily delay” construction of the project, according to Transport for the North (TfN) chief executive Barry White.

At a meeting yesterday, the TfN board agreed to wait to submit its strategic outline case (SOC) until after the publication of the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP), as requested by transport secretary Grant Shapps.

White said that the IRP will allow a greater understanding of the government’s plans for HS2 and how it might integrate with NPR.

“The only practical way forward is to agree to a rephasing of the SOC,” he said. “It won’t necessarily delay the construction process – in some cases it could allow quicker progress – it really depends on what the IRP says.”

The discussion was initially due to be held in private at the Department for Transport (DfT)'s request, but in a last minute change TfN decided to include it in the public section of the meeting.

White added that a single preferred network has not yet been agreed and that the IRP could “help resolve some of those single network issues”.

According to meeting papers, the timing of a delayed SOC would “very much be dependent on the content and timing of the IRP”. In three scenarios outlined, the SOC could be submitted between three and nine months from the IRP’s publication.

Timelines for delay

The IRP could potentially affect the economic analysis required, consequently modelling and appraisal would drive the timelines for delay:

  • If the IRP sets a funding envelope for NPR and invites TfN and DfT to achieve consensus on the NPR network within that affordability envelope, the further shortlisting and updating of the SOC would be required. Dependent on the need for additional evidence to support decision making, timescales to submission of the SOC: 6- 9 months from the IRP.

  •  If the IRP selects a different network or different phasing from the existing shortlisted option, then existing models could be used to run the IRP network configuration. Timescales to submission of the SOC: c3-4 months from the IRP

  • If the IRP changes the fundamental assumptions on which NPR is based, for example on the infrastructure or timing of HS2 Phase 2B or TRU, or necessitate changes to the interim train service specification, then there would be a need to update baseline models which is a much longer process. Timescale to submission of the SOC: perhaps upwards of 6 months.

Board members raised concern about the delays, with Liverpool mayor Steve Rotherham emphasising that the SOC “should be inform the IRP and not the other way round”.

However TfN board chair John Cridland said that delaying the SOC could strengthen it in the long run.

“There are two big corridors where there are significant capital investments – the Leeds to Manchester corridor and the Manchester to Liverpool corridor,” he said.

“There are choices that will have to be made with government to get the best transformational results for the North. The SOC will be stronger if we are able to get to a point where we have an agreement on ambition for those corridors – if we reduce to one preferred option for each.

"That is the prize. If by waiting for more news from government it helps that process that could be positive but of course I understand the concerns.”

The co-clienting approach which TfN adopts with the DfT means the strategic outline case can only proceed with joint agreement.

As such, the board agreed to delay the case but said it would also provide “additional statutory advice” on a number of issues.

These include the key strategic benefits of the NPR network; the role of TfN in the future delivery model for NPR and the mandate to progress toward further route and design refinement, outline business case and the necessary development consenting on parts of the NPR network set to start construction in the mid-2020s.

TfN will now write to the DfT to confirm its decision.

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