he Government’s Network North rail plan has been described as a “shambles” after apparent pledges were watered down or dropped altogether a day after being announced.
A pledge of “£100m for a mass transit system for Bristol” appeared in documents on the Government website on Wednesday but had disappeared a day later, while by Thursday a previously promised upgrade to the A259 from Bognor Regis to Southampton only extended from Bognor Regis to Littlehampton – 45 miles less than previously stated.
Documents published on Wednesday revealed that the Leamside Line in Northumberland would be reopened using money saved by axing HS2 north of Birmingham, the Northern Echo reported.
This plan is in disarray, and this shambles shows once again the Conservatives simply aren’t serious about delivering for the country
According to the newspaper, a document listing benefits to the North East stated: “The Leamside Line, closed in 1964, will also be reopened.”
But all reference to the line appeared to have been removed by Thursday.
The newer version of the document instead said that the £1.8 billion allocated to the North East from the City Regional Sustainable Transport Settlement 2 and HS2 funding “could part fund the reopening of the Leamside Line”.
Transport minister Richard Holden wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, that whether or not reopen the Leamside line with funds from the scaling back of HS2 would be down to the metro mayor for the North East.
On Wednesday, at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced the widely expected axing of the HS2 project from Birmingham to Manchester – citing a doubling of costs for the project.
As part of a drive to create a new northern network, he pledged to invest in a raft of other transport schemes.
Commenting on the apparent reversal of certain pledges, shadow transport secretary, Louise Haigh said Network North was a “back of a fag packet” plan.
The Labour MP for Sheffield Heeley said a number of Mr Sunak’s pledges had “already been promised” by previous Conservative governments.
“This plan is in disarray, and this shambles shows once again the Conservatives simply aren’t serious about delivering for the country,” she said.
“Only after 13 years of failure could the Conservatives pledge to take two decades to deliver projects they’ve already promised.
“These are promises that have been made to the North and Midlands countless times before – and frankly they are sick and tired of empty promises from this broken government.
“The truth is, catastrophic Conservative mismanagement has blown a hole in HS2 and after this fiasco, why should anyone in the North believe they can deliver anything they say.”
Commenting on the Leamside Line, a Department for Transport (DfT) spokesperson said: “We are funding a new Ferryhill Station, and providing around £1.8 billion funding to the North East – an investment only possible due to the billions of pounds redirected from HS2.
“This investment will empower local leaders to fund the transport projects that matter most to their communities – including funding for the Leamside line if they choose to.
“We are working closely with Transport North East as they work on the business case for the reopening of the Leamside Line.”
The DfT has been further approached for comment on the Bristol and Southampton projects.