LEADERS PRESS FOR TRANSPORT PROMISES
THE north has united to up the ante on government over its ‘outdated, expensive and slow’ transport system – demanding a clear timetable for new train links is laid out in this autumn’s budget.
Leaders from across the region gathered in Leeds in the wake of a row sparked last month by transport secretary Chris Grayling.
He had suggested the entirety of the Manchester to Leeds line may not need electrification after all, followed swiftly by the announcement that the £30bn Crossrail 2 line in London has his backing.
In the resulting backlash Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham called a summit of businesses and northern leaders to discuss how to pressure the government on its transport promises.
That summit issued a series of demands from government. They include a call to honour all its promises on northern upgrades, including full electrification, track and signalling upgrades on commuter routes.
Ministers are also being pushed to lay out a ‘clear timetable’ in this autumn’s budget for a new east-west rail link, regardless of any other commitments to major schemes such as Crossrail 2.
And northern leaders also want a fairer distribution of transport funding, which – according to an analysis by the think-tank IPPR – sees London get £3,400 per head if Crossrail 2 goes ahead, compared to £427 per head in the north west, although the government says this does not represent the full picture.
The statement released following last Wednesday’s summit was signed by Andy Burnham, Manchester council leader Sir Richard Leese, Sheffield leader Julie Dore, Newcastle council leader Nick Forbes and Merseyside mayor Steve Rotherham.
Following the meeting Mr Burnham said leaders had agreed to form a ‘council of the north’ to push on major infrastructure and Brexit discussions affecting the region.
Mr Burnham said: “It is time now for the north to pool its political influence and show a real willingness to use it, like London, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have been doing in recent times.
“Westminster has failed the north of England but in the past we have struggled to speak with one clear voice on its unfair decisions.
“If we get this right, a new ‘Council of the North’ could mark a real change to the politics of our country.”
A DfT spokesperson said the government remained 100 per cent committed to delivering transport improvements across all areas of the country. They added: “We are already investing over £13bn in the north of England’s transport infrastructure, including on roads and railways, to deliver faster journeys and increased capacity.
“We are also developing options to deliver drastically improved journeys on the Transpennine route from 2022.
“We are committed to Northern Powerhouse Rail, as set out in the manifesto, and that is why we have invested £60m for TfN to take the development of the scheme forward. There has been no change in timetable, with Transport for the North due to present its proposals next year.”
THE region’s senior business leaders have called on the government to back a major campaign for Crossrail for the North.
The Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP), chaired by former Chancellor George Osborne, is calling on the government to show ‘its continued commitment to Northern Powerhouse Rail.’
Fifty business and civic leaders from across the north of England signed a letter to the government demanding an increase in transport spending.
Among the signatories are Steve Gillingham, director for the North, Mace, Dave Newton, director, ARUP; Chris Oglesby, CEO, Bruntwood; Collette Roche, acting CEO, Manchester Airport; John Joyce, managing partner, Addleshaw Goddard; Andy Koss, CEO, Drax Power and Clive Memmott, CEO of Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce.
The letter sent to Prime Minister Theresa May and Chancellor Philip Hammond by the Partnership, states: “We are calling on the government to show its continued commitment to Crossrail for the North in the Autumn Budget, alongside a step change investment in the wider road and rail corridors which link the key economic assets of the North. This crucial, panNorthern infrastructure of Crossrail for the North, the Northern Powerhouse’s Railway, would significantly cut journey times, for example providing a no more than 30-minute commute between Leeds and Manchester and less than 60 minutes between Leeds and Newcastle, and have a dramatic impact on the UK economy.”
An independent study by think tank the Institute of Public Policy Research North in February found that £1,943 is spent per head in London on current or planned transport infrastructure projects, compared to an average of just £427 in the North.
The report’s author Grace Blakeley said at the time: “It currently takes longer to travel by train from Liverpool to Hull than from London to Paris. Building better links between the North’s cities will boost the nation’s economy, driving up productivity.”
●● George Osborne is chair of NPP