Transport civil war: Westminster strips TfN of powers


The fallout from the Government's controversial Integrated Rail Plan has sparked a transport civil war, with the Department for Transport stripping Transport for the North of powers and the regional body fighting a rearguard war of words.

DfT has written to TfN to say it intends to 'assume immediate and full responsibility for finalising the NPR [Northern Powerhouse Rail] Strategic Outline Case', a move that could potentially see staff TUPE across from the sub-national transport body to the central government department.

The resulting loss of funding, and potential loss of personnel, is compounded by the fact that TfN will also be relegated from the prized role of 'co-client' to a 'co-sponsor' and be only one voice on a new joint sponsor board made up 'of DfT and TfN officials'.

The Integrated Rail Plan confirmed cutbacks to the Eastern leg of HS2, which will now stop in the East Midlands and not go to Leeds. Plans to build a high speed line across the North dubbed Northern Powerhouse Rail (NRP) dropped in favour of a series of upgrades, including a large scale electrification process.

The moves sparked a wave of fury across the North, with local leaders claiming they had been betrayed.

Since 2016, the NPR programme has been structured under a co-client framework, with TfN responsible for instructing Network Rail and the Department for Transport (DfT) responsible for remitting HS2 Ltd.

David Hughes, director general for Rail Infrastructure Group at the Department for Transport (DfT), has written to Marting Tugwell, TfN chief executive, to confirm that the government is scrapping this model in the wake of its Integrated Rail Plan.

Mr Hughes said that while the current set-up 'has worked reasonably effectively through the early stages of the project, it has not been without its challenges (e.g. the accountabilities structure and complex funding channels), and so I take the view that the current arrangements will not be sustainable as NPR transitions into delivery'.

DfT will now assume the role of 'sole client' for the programme, with responsibility for instructing bot Network Rail and HS2 Ltd.

Mr Hughes said: 'This means that, effective from 1 April 2022, DfT will cease to pay Transport Development Fund grant in respect of Network Rail development costs for NPR and this work will instead be funded within the normal arrangements for the Network Rail enhancement portfolio (RNEP) directly by the department.

'We propose that TfN transition form 'co-client' to 'co-sponsor', continuing to provide statutory advice to secretary of state and input to the strategic direction of the programme to a new joint sponsor board.'

He adds: 'The precise terms of the sponsorship agreement will need to be discussed and agreed but the outcome sought is a single programme client guided by a sponsor board of DfT and TfN representatives.'

Discussing the new role of DfT as a sole client responsible for completing the strategic outline case for NPR, Mr Hughes said: 'We recognise that these changes will have significant impact on those working in the programme and that TUPE arrangements may be engaged.

'There remains a considerable amount of work to align the SOC with the funding, delivery and policy positions set out in the IPR, which needs to happen rapidly and without lengthy debate.'

Labour's transport secretary Jim McMahon described the move as 'the death nail to transport devolution'.

Cllr Louise Gittins, interim chair of Transport for the North, described the Government's Integrated Rail Plan as 'woefully inadequate'.

'Our statutory advice asked for an over £40bn network but the Government has decided to provide even less than half of that,' she said. 'The leaders of the North, jointly with Government, have worked hard to come up with an evidence-led plan to help reverse the chasm of under investment over the last four decades to give passengers in the North a railway network fit for today and for generations to come.

'That doesn’t mean a bit here and a bit there or minor upgrades to the existing network. It means transformational change for the whole rail network. That means building HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail in full. That means good east-west connections, improved reliability and a better customer experience to bring about modal shift to meet our decarbonisation strategy.

'It is time for the North to have its fair share. It’s time for the North to have a proper railway network. It’s time for real evidence of levelling-up. If we truly want to level up the country we don’t need words and promises. We need commitment. We need investment. We need Government to make good its pledge to the North.'

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