Transport secretary Chris Grayling has said transport links in the North must be designed and managed by the North itself.
Writing in the Yorkshire Post, he said that one of his biggest priorities was to build the links needed for the region to thrive, but urged leaders in the North to recognise they were in the ”driving seat”.
“It is central government’s responsibility to provide funding and a delivery structure that ensures efficiency, value for money and accountability,” he said. “But beyond this, I want the North to take control.”
He said by setting up Transport for the North (TfN), and backing the election of metro mayors, the government had given the North greater autonomy, control, and a “powerful voice to articulate the case for new transport projects”.
TfN welcomed the “supportive comments” made by Grayling and said it was looking forward to the government’s ongoing commitment. It added this needed the government to acknowledge the strategic body’s 30 year strategic transport plan was both necessary and realistic to deliver “transformational” economic growth. It also said it should plan and commit for Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) – a major rail programme likely to involve a combination of new routes and upgrades of existing infrastructure – to be put into both the design of the High Speed 2 (HS2) phase 2b Hybrid Bill and the development of High Speed 3.
TfN chief executive David Brown said the NPR was at the heart of TfN’s transport plan as it would “transform the northern economy and meet the needs of people and business”. It aims to improve links between the region’s key economic hubs: Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and Manchester airport.
“This network [NPR] would put 1.3M people within an hour’s reach of four of the North’s major cities. Currently less than 10,000 people have this opportunity,” he said.
“None of this will happen overnight, but commitment and planning for a phased programme of road and rail investments now will give the North the confidence required for sustained economic growth.”
The statement from Grayling comes as transport leaders in the north were preparing to meet in Leeds today.
The “unprecedented” gathering comes following what Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) said was “widespread confusion and anger” after Grayling postponed and cancelled “long promised” improvements to Northern railways. In July this year, Grayling announced the government was scrapping three rail elecrification schemes in the North and Wales in favour of bi-mode trains, powered by electricity and diesel. Only days later he gave his backing to Crossrail 2, a rail project centred on links to London.
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said the meeting showed that “the patience of people in the North of England had run out”. Burnham said the authorities were demanding the government kept its promises to deliver a fair funding deal for the region.
“We are not against our capital city developing world class infrastructure but it cannot be at the expense of the North,” said Burnham. “People here have put up with clapped out trains and congested roads for long enough.”
“The government needs to show it is serious about rebalancing and revitalising our economy.
“We need to see clear prioritisation and a timetable for Crossrail for the North from the government as well as other vital transport improvements going ahead as soon as possible.”