Plans to create a new body to oversee Britain’s railways have been delayed.
And the decision has been described as “incredibly disappointing” by the leader of City of York Council.
Transport Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan told MPs today (Wednesday) that the Government has axed its plan to introduce a Transport Bill during the current parliamentary session because legislation to deal with the energy crisis is being prioritised.
The Bill included the establishment of Great British Railways (GBR). It was due to absorb Network Rail and issue contracts to private companies to run trains – and York was in the running to be home for its HQ.
GBR was due to begin operating in early 2024 but that timetable has been scrapped.
Last week, YorkMix reported City of York Council leader Keith Aspden’s fears that the GBR project was going to be shelved.
Responding to today’s news, he said: “It is incredibly disappointing to learn that the plans for GBR and the integration of railways and improvements to services have been shelved.
“This is the latest in a series of shambolic blunders by this Government that speaks volumes to their lack of commitment to levelling up and their complete mismanagement of our country.
“Ever since the announcement of the Great British Rail project, we have worked with residents, businesses and partners to make the case for York to be chosen as the home of the Government’s flagship rail body. This move could bring new jobs and investment to York and the North.
“The Government must not abandon their plans to deliver comprehensive investment and an integrated rail service in the North, which is the only way to unlock the full potential of the region.”
In July, the DfT announced that York had been shortlisted to host the headquarters of GBR, alongside Birmingham, Crewe, Derby, Doncaster and Newcastle.
“We will continue to make the case for York, ask for clarity on the progress of the project and urge for it not to cancelled for the benefit of the city, region and passengers,” Cllr Aspden said.
“The cancellation of this flagship project would not only would it be a wasted opportunity to create more jobs and grow the rail sector in York, but would also fail to deliver much needed service improvements for passengers – from ticketing to infrastructure.”
In the House of Commons, York Central MP Rachael Maskell (Lab) demanded more details, saying “thousands of jobs could be at stake”:
Ms Maskell said: “Abandoning the establishment of the GBR HQ would be devastating to the rail industry across York.
“York has invested significantly in this relocation projects as we knew that if it were to be located outside of the city, it would result in job losses yet in York, it would consolidate our already significant rail sector.”
Andy Bagnall, chief executive of industry body Rail Partners, said: “It is disappointing the legislation to create GBR will be delayed, but we look forward to working with the Secretary of State, rail minister and Great British Railways Transition Team’s leadership to progress reform in its absence.
“It is critical there is not a long hiatus and there are immediate steps that can be taken now, such as switching on revenue incentives in national rail contracts and feeding back to the market on passenger service contract development, which can accelerate growth and underpin a reinvigorated public-private partnership.”
Ms Trevelyan said the legislation “around rail transformation in particular, we will need to look at in the fourth session”.