A GOVERNMNENT pledge to improve rail services in the North have been branded ‘a fraud’ as investment plans are expected to be dramatically scaled back this week.

Reports have emerged that when the Government publishes its Integrated Rail Plan on Thursday, the Northern Powerhouse Rail element will be a watered-down version of what was first promised by Boris Johnson in 2019.

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The government is expected to scrap the eastern leg of HS2 between the Midlands and Leeds and the plan in the North will only commit to investing into existing Transpennine route upgrades rather than building a new high-speed route via Bradford.

A Department for Transport spokeswoman says work is continuing on the plan but politicians have already voiced concern that the region will suffer if improvements aren’t fully realised.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said the backtrack shows that the Northern Powerhouse Rail proposals had been “a fraud”.

Kevin Hollinrake, MP for Thirsk and Malton, said that railways in the region have been ‘neglected for decades’ by successive governments due to the huge costs involved in overhauling them.

But he said government investment was essential in order to help businesses flourish in the North-East, particularly with big plans for green energy industries and the Freeport on Teesside.

He said: “Freeports and all those things are great, (as are) tax breaks to encourage people to invest in the North and in green energy, but if you have not got the connectivity then you are missing a very important part of the process and we have got to make sure that we don’t miss that opportunity.

“Every economist I have seen has said that connectivity is a crucial part of levelling-up, that is what we are trying to achieve, connecting things together in a holistic way.”

Mr Hollinrake is clear that the government must invest adequately in the region’s rail infrastructure if the Conservatives’ levelling-up agenda is to be achieved.

He said: “The economic disparity between London and the South-East and the North-East, for example, is as wide as it was between East and West Germany prior to reunification; it is massive.

“In terms of economic output per head, it is about two and a half times greater in London and the South East.”

He added that roughly for every £1 spent per person on travel infrastructure in the North-East, £3 is spent in London and the South East.

Durham City Labour MP Mary Kelly Foy said: “The rumours that the Integrated Rail Plan will see investment and connectivity to the North scaled back shatters the illusion that the Conservatives are committed to ‘levelling up’ northern cities and towns like Durham.

“People in our region will be left wondering how a government can talk so brazenly about the desperate need to invest in the North yet deliver so little.

“I have been arguing since being elected to parliament that without major upgrades to the East Coast Mainline and the reinstatement of the Leamside Line we won’t see transformation needed to ‘level up’ or achieve net zero.

“By scrapping Northern Powerhouse Rail, and repackaging existing investment as new, the Government are once again overlooking the north and treating our constituents as second-class citizens, refusing to overhaul our creaking railways and unlock connectivity and jobs in our region.

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“Durham deserves better trains. It seems this Government aren’t serious about getting our communities back on track.

A spokesman for Boris Johnson said the government was committed to transforming rail connections across the Midlands and the North with shorter journey times and an accelerated timetable for delivery to ‘bring in real benefits to communities as soon as possible’.

He added: “This will be a significant investment of taxpayers’ money and it will take some time to deliver.

“What we want to do is make sure that it is delivered as fast as possible so that people see real tangible improvements to their journey times.”

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