As may be imagined, reactions to the publication of Sir Peter Hendy’s interim report from his Union Connectivity Review were widespread and varied.
Many, of course, commented on the Review from their own perspective.
Taking a wide view, Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps said: As we build back better from COVID-19, it is more important than ever that we level up every corner of our great country.
“High-quality transport infrastructure is key to achieving that, which is why we are committed to boosting connectivity and bringing communities across the UK even closer together.”
Speaking for the railway supply industry, Darren Caplan, chief executive of the Railway Industry Association, said: “It is positive to see the Government set out ideas for new rail investment, including better connections from HS2 to Scotland and North Wales and higher capacity on the East Coast main line.
“Rail has a vital role to play in the UK’s economic recovery from Coronavirus and in achieving net zero by 2050, but to do so it needs certainty on planned rail schemes, like HS2 Eastern Leg, Northern Powerhouse Rail and the Midlands Rail Hub, as well as visibility of upcoming rail enhancement schemes, and the decarbonisation and digitalisation of the network.
“The rail industry looks forward to working with the government to take these forward, supporting jobs, investment and economic growth as we emerge from the Coronavirus pandemic.”
On the question of HS2 and high-speed rail in general, Tom Wadsworth , board director at the High Speed Rail Group, commented: “We welcome the progress being made by government in formulating plans for a new pan-UK strategic transport network, including faster and higher capacity connections from HS2 to Scotland and North Wales – which will benefit both passengers and freight.
“The Prime Minister’s comments in today’s Daily Telegraph on improving rail links between England and Scotland – ‘We don’t need a new line; with some bypasses, better track and signalling, as Sir Peter believes, we could run services from Glasgow to London in about 3 hours, and carry more freight too’ – are very much in line with our own report, High Speed Rail and Scotland, which set out a series of specific improvements that could help us achieve a three-hour journey time between our two nations. The £20 million committed by Government today could play a significant role in accelerating this ambition.
“A truly national high speed rail network will be essential in not only improving capacity but levelling up our economy and reaching our 2050 net zero goals. With the Union Connectivity Review set to be published this summer, the government should commit to funding the final report’s recommendations as part of the next Spending Review.”
From the perspective of the North of England, Tim Foster, interim strategy and programmes Director at Transport for the North, said: “The North must be at the heart of the mission to better connect the whole of the UK and level up, investment in our infrastructure is critical to improving key routes across our borders to Wales, Scotland and further south.
“It’s positive to see the early rail and road projects highlighted by the Review strongly aligned to those in our own infrastructure pipeline for the North.
“Long-term commitment to a transformed rail network for the UK – including Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 – must also now form the backbone of better connections across the union. Doing so will deliver more rail capacity and increase reliability, as well as cutting carbon emissions and driving recovery of our economy.”
The Scottish perspective was expressed in the House of Commons during questions ot the Secretary of State for Scotland, Alister Jack MP. John Lamont, Conservative MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, asked: “The Minister will know that cross-border transport routes are vital for my constituents, for educational and career opportunities as well as many other day-to-day tasks. That is why I want to see the Borders Railway extended and to see improvements to the A1; these are both vital routes for the Scottish borders.
“Does he share my frustration and shock that the SNP Scottish Government are failing to engage with and support the connectivity review, which could be an opportunity to accelerate these two projects?”
The Scottish Secretary replied: “I share my honourable Friend’s frustration, I really do.
“This review is part of our levelling-up agenda to improve the national infrastructure and create jobs and prosperity, and I think it is pathetic of the Scottish nationalist Government not to have engaged just because it is a ‘Union’ connectivity review.”
Dr Neil Hudson, Conservative MP for Penrith and The Border, questioned: “As an MP for a borderlands region, I know that strengthening and enhancing our Union is of huge importance to my constituency of Penrith and The Border.
“Does my right honourable Friend agree that projects such as extending the Borders Railway down to Carlisle are a clear example of how the UK and Scottish Governments can work together to improve transport links in the region? Does he also agree that this would be a great boost to the economies of both the north of England and the south of Scotland, and provide a gateway to unlocking the potential of both regions?
Alister Jack’s reply gave hope to supporters of the Borders Railway project: “I agree with my honourable Friend, and I hope he will be aware that next week we are signing the full borderlands growth deal, which will include funding for the feasibility study into reopening the Borders Railway link between Carlisle and Tweedbank.”