It was inevitable that the Integrated Rail Plan would divide public opinion. In such a far-reaching Plan there will always be winners and losers where choices must be made between different possible outcomes.
We question whether this is an actual Integrated Plan at all? It certainly is a Plan, but it seems to concern itself mainly with the core routes and makes only passing references to the secondary routes which link into them. A Plan that describes itself as integrated, should have paid far more attention to secondary routes also. However good core services eventually become, they are of little use to the great number of people who cannot efficiently access them because connecting services are not good enough. There are also important destinations that need to be accessible which do not lie on these core routes.
Unless these secondary services receive the same kind of serious consideration as the core routes, the North will simply be left with a two-tier system and the “levelling-up” agenda will not be achieved.
We note however, that a sum of £1.5 bn has been set aside for smaller schemes in the Midlands and the North, which could refer to the upgrade of certain other services, but no detail is given, not even as an Appendix to the main report. If there is to be an additional report on the development of these secondary services, it should have been made clear.
Pontefract Civic Society is particularly concerned about this issue, as Pontefract Line services are the only ones in West Yorkshire which terminate at the County Boundary and do not connect with anything at all. High on the agenda of any consideration of Northern connectivity must be the elimination of the illogical termination of services at Knottingley. These services are wasted opportunities for onward connection to the wider rail system and are the very antithesis of inter-connectivity in the North.
The Society has long campaigned for the restoration of former service links to Goole linking with Hull and North Humberside and to Askern and Doncaster, linking with both South Humberside and the East Coast Main Line. This pattern gives practical connectivity between West Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and much of Eastern England and makes much better use of the current truncated, unconnected services. Moreover, these developments would be relatively easy to implement and constitute “quick-wins”, so that the objective of improving connectivity could be achieved far sooner.
The Plan rightly draws attention to the need to provide a viable alternative to the excessive use of the private car in meeting the Government’s environmental and climate change objectives. The lack of, and inadequacy of these secondary, supporting services works against these objectives. The lack of a direct link between West Yorkshire and South Humberside is a good example of this, where currently the awkward indirect link via Doncaster provides every incentive to make the journey to this important area by private car, using the motorway system.
It will be difficult to meet inclusivity targets if secondary services are not significantly improved, because it makes it more difficult for much of the population to access the main city areas for employment, education and leisure. In short, there is a very real danger that the perceived North/South Divide will become a smaller-scale North/North Divide unless secondary services receive a higher priority.
The Rapid Transit scheme proposed for the Leeds District is wholly desirable and we note that it may eventually reach as far as Pontefract, although we would not wish to see it replace the heavy rail services. It is likely to be at least twenty years away and its scope may well alter in such a long-time frame. In any case, although Leeds will always be the main destination for the Five Towns area, it cannot be assumed that good connectivity is only required in this direction. It is not sufficient to ensure that only travel within the City Region is improved; it is important also to improve links to destinations outside the area and particularly those that do not lie on the core routes – such as Lincoln. The improvement of service connectivity on our secondary routes is of great importance in the “levelling-up” agenda but this document does not pay sufficient attention to it and to that extent, falls short of its intended scope and does not truly reflect the meaning of its title.