TATTON MP Esther McVey is questioning the Government over how many people took part in a consultation into future rail plans for the north, including HS2, amid fears the period was too short to allow people to have their say.

Ms McVey, who opposed HS2, said the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan for the North (IRP) was ‘a hugely sensitive issue, particularly in constituencies impacted by the current schemes planned’ such as hers.

Announced by the Prime Minister in February, the IRP will consider how Phase 2b, bringing high speed rail to Leeds and Manchester, will connect with Northern Powerhouse Rail, which aims to improve east-west connections between the North’s major cities.

A call for evidence on the plan was carried out during lockdown, but Ms McVey said it should have been extended and better publicised given the pandemic, believing interested parties across the area were not aware of it.

She said: “This feels very much like a call for evidence designed to exclude the views of as many dissenting voices as possible.

“I have made it quite clear I am opposed to HS2, and I know there are groups which are against the plans which have not been heard and many constituents wanted to contribute.

“Across Tatton we have a number of residents and groups who know a considerable amount about rail in the north and have views on HS2 and NPR.

“There is at least one group which has developed a suggestion that will deliver many of the purported benefits of HS2 at a much reduced cost, financially and environmentally, and its opinion has not been included.

“I can’t believe it is acceptable to exclude the views of many people across the Midlands and the north who are directly impacted by the current plans under consideration.

“I expressed my frustration and disappointment to Andrew Stephenson and said Government should reopen its call for evidence. It will be very interesting to hear how many people submitted evidence.”

She said in addition to looking at how to integrate HS2 Phase 2b and wider transport plans in the north and the Midlands, the plan would consider how to deliver benefits from investments more quickly, improve efficiency and reducing costs by drawing on lessons learned from Phase One, as well as approaches to sponsorship and delivery, and how to take account of the views of local leaders. The plan is expected to be announced later this year.

Ms McVey said she wanted the call for evidence reopened to allow people to have their say, but said the Government said the two-month period from March to May was sufficient.

In reply to Ms McVey, Mr Stephenson said the Government was committed to delivering the best rail service possible, and any extension would result in delays on delivering that.

He wrote: “The National Infrastructure Commission held its call for evidence between March 25 and May 29, and welcomed submissions from all parties, including businesses, passengers, transport experts and regional leaders.

“This call for evidence was not designed to exclude views of any organisation or group and sought input from a range of stakeholders to share their ideas relating to transforming rail in the north and Midlands.

“As well as this call for evidence both the Department and the NIC have been engaging with stakeholders from the north and Midlands throughout their work on the IRP.”