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Delay to Integrated Rail Plan confirmed with Northern Powerhouse Rail left suffering

It’s official: The long wait for the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) will go on for at least another two months.

Board agenda papers released ahead of next week’s Transport for the North (TfN) board meeting confirm that the IRP will not be published prior to parliamentary recess (starting 22 July).

It means that publication of the plan to connect major railway projects in the country will now be delayed until September at the earliest.

The IRP will provide an update on government’s plans for projects like HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail and Midlands Rail Hub.

TfN agenda papers note that the delay to the IRP means that “the Strategic Outline Case for [Northern Powerhouse Rail is now unlikely to be completed within the FY21/22 and could take 6-12 months from publication of the IRP”.

The papers add that “given the need for a government spending review this year, it is possible that the IRP could be considered as part of that review and could be published toward the end of the calendar year”.

Under its “worst-case-scenario” TfN estimates an 18 month gap between publication of the IRP and completion of its Strategic Outline Case for Northern Powerhouse Rail.

TfN agenda papers add: “This would in turn result in delays to the programme and start of construction, meaning that the potential gains in the programme to be made by rephasing the SOC will be outstripped by the continued delays to the IRP, delaying the step-change in connectivity, delivering transformational, clean, economic growth across the North of England brought about by Northern Powerhouse Rail.”

TfN will also carry out “a review of the scope and timing of the programme […] and the budget implications will be summarised in budget revision”.

Last winter, the DfT requested the completion and submission of the Strategic Outline Case (SOC) for Northern Powerhouse Rail be delayed until after the Integrated Rail Plan has been published. It was due to be submitted in March 2021.

At that time, the DfT indicated that the submission of a business case that is consistent with the government’s policy and funding framework set out in the IRP would improve overall programme delivery and “allow more rapid alignment around single route options than envisaged in current plans – which assume a further twelve months work in some cases before detailed design work can begin.”

However, following the latest delay to the IRP, TfN has confirmed that it will now carry on with its business case regardless of whether or not the IRP is published.

Agenda papers add: “Given the importance of rail to the Strategy there is a clear interdependency with the Integrated Rail Plan. TfN has delayed finalising the strategy with the Board in the expectation of the IRP being published this summer.

“We now recommend moving to consultation in the autumn, irrespective of whether the IRP has been published, with the recommendations offering sufficient flexibility to respond to the IRP.”

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