Conservatives MPs from Devon and Cornwall last night held a heated meeting with the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, delivering an ultimatum which asked for written assurances over future investment in the South West’s rail network ahead of the second reading of the Government’s much heralded HS2 Bill.
Over the weekend, Johnny Mercer informed the whips that he was to table an amendment signed by Conservative MPs to vote down the bill, unless concrete commitments were received before today on the Government’s commitments to the region in general, but in particular the PRTF report that was submitted to the Department in 2016. Following successive meetings with the Secretary of State, the region’s MP’s have now secured a written confirmation of the Government’s continued commitment to the PRTF plan, with a response by the end of February at the latest.
At the end of the meeting, the Transport Secretary agreed to provide written assurances in advance of today’s HS2 debate.
At 13:24, the Transport Secretary’s letter arrived, committing the government to:
- Dawlish as the government’s number one national transport priority;
- A full response from the DfT to the PRTF study, presented to government in November 2016;
- Deliver regular, all-week, all-service timetable between Exeter and Okehampton as soon as is practical;
- Review the costs and business case for the first part of the Speed to the West proposals, including electrification and track alignment, and, following due diligence to determine this is the correct approach, integrate this into the planned renewals of the track between Plymouth and Totnes;
- A significant increase in track upgrades;
- Increase maintenance spending;
- Continue the extensive programme of resilience works in the wake of the 2014 floods including: the raising of all lineside railway signal cabinets at Cowley Bridge, widening the existing flood culvert and the installation of a second culvert this summer as well as decision on the proposals to remove the three weirs, further protecting the site from flooding.
Johnny Mercer MP, said:
“I made a very clear commitment to the people of Plymouth when I was first elected that I would not support HS2 unless our railway was being planned and resourced correctly. Up until recently I have felt that with new trains next year, a new station by 2021 and over £20m of resilience work at Dawlish I could see the path lit to a better railway for Plymouth. As however time has gone with, my confidence in actually delivering something on rail was diminishing somewhat, and it was with regret that I felt we should as a cohort of SW MP’s act to force the Government to respond.
“I am very pleased to see from the Transport Secretary’s response that Dawlish is the government’s number one transport priority; that he will respond to the PRTF report by the end of February, and he will make a decision shortly on the ’speed to the west’ study, for which we have not missed the deadline as was previously thought.
“I am very clear that I cannot call the railway the ‘totemic issue’ for Plymouth and not deliver on it. I am committed to doing everything I can to actually deliver on this for the people of Plymouth who have been let down by Government when it comes to rail, for far too long.
Gary Streeter MP, Chair of the APPG on SW Rail, said:
“The government had been listening, but occasionally needed an extra incentive to press the start button. Our meeting has cleared the air for this and I am confident that we are back on track to delivering the 20 year rail plan that the PRTF worked so hard to put together.”