Last week we saw the release of the long-awaited Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) which set out the government’s plan for delivering and sequencing major rail investments across the North of England. On the day of its release the Prime Minister visited Bank Quay station and described Warrington as being “at the heart” of the country’s rail network and one of the best-connected towns in the North. I’m pleased to say that he is absolutely spot on and the plans for Warrington will help with ‘levelling up’.
I remember knocking on doors across the town prior to the 2019 General Election when time and time again people told me about their frustration with rail services between Manchester and Liverpool. People want to see faster, more reliable connections with the key cities and towns so it’s reassuring to see such a strong commitment from the Government who’ve listened to the views of local people and made a commitment to better, faster rail services through Warrington. So often the biggest criticism I make is that we have failed to invest in the infrastructure we need to help our economy, to help local people to get about and live their lives. Under these plans, we’re getting the rail infrastructure our town needs.
The new high-speed line between Warrington, Manchester and on into Yorkshire and a plan to make use the Fiddlers Ferry Line goods to Liverpool will create opportunities. This will release capacity on the existing network for commuter trains and freight and will mean a new station hub can be created at Warrington Bank Quay, using the lower-level platforms through Arpley sidings. This will not only improve journey times between our towns and cities, but it will also have a regeneration effect on the town centre.
The plans to improve rail connectivity shouldn’t be looked at in isolation. Just a few weeks ago the Chancellor announced £24m investment in buses for Warrington, agreeing to support the town’s bus company with its move to zero emission buses – it’ll make Warrington the first town in the North to have a brand-new fleet of have of electric buses, connecting out Borough with better rail infrastructure. This also sits alongside developments to invest in Warrington as a business destination, a town which supports well paid, skilled jobs, on both the West Coast Mainline and Northern Powerhouse Rail. The new transport network will act as a catalyst to redevelop areas around our stations, including brownfield sites along Wilson Patten Street and along the Mersey, attracting jobs and investment for the benefit of everyone in the community. Businesses in particular will be able to retain greater talent pools, drawing on people from across the North, rather than losing people to the capital city each year. And when I think of how many skilled people we will need to develop projects like Hynet carbon capture and storage, this can only be a good thing.
Critically, this plan strikes the right balance between ambition and reality. We all know how long rail projects take to deliver, often late and overbudget. I want to see the benefits of this £96bn package realised as soon as possible, we cannot wait forever to see material differences. Particularly as we recover from a global pandemic, there is more urgency than ever to get on with the job and give people easier access to opportunities. And this goes for more than just transport projects, our submission is now in for a new hospital and I will continue to push Ministers in Westminster to make sure this can be made a reality. More detailed plans for our £22m town deal are also coming to fruition as we head into 2022, and I am excited by the prospect of new skills and learning academies in the health and construction sectors, helping local people into local jobs.
Finally, the Golborn Spur is now officially under review by the Government. I’ve argued the £3bn piece of track which passes to the East of Warrington isn’t necessary. The Union Connectivity Review will be considering “alternatives to the Golborne Link from HS2 Line to the West Coast Mainline”. This is due to be published in 2022.
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