North demands rail investment at summit

Richard Furlong - City Surveys Group

Home » North demands rail investment at summit

Published: 30th August 2017

This Article was Written by: Richard Furlong - City Surveys Group

  


Last week, Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and Liverpool City Region mayor Steve Rotheram joined with leaders from Leeds, Newcastle and Sheffield for a transport summit; a landmark meeting aiming to improve trans-northern rail links with the rest of the UK by forcing into the government spotlight.

In a rebellious Game of Thrones-esque gesture, northern leaders met to draw up a battle plan to combat the government’s u-turn on rail investment and elicited complaints from the government for not being invited to attend.

In July, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling raised concerns about the future of northern rail investment by throwing the electrification of the Manchester to Leeds route into doubt. Subsequently, a petition urging full support for the project, variously billed as Northern Powerhouse Rail, HS3 and Crossrail for the North, has obtained 70,000 signatures.

The Northern Powerhouse Partnership also added weight to the matter by appealing to the government to rethink its position on rail investment in a letter sent earlier this month. The partnership is made of up influential UK organisations including Manchester Airports , Mace, Arcadis, Arup, Addleshaw Goddard, HSBC and Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce.

The meeting of northern leaders took place following the former Chancellor’s (George Osborne) plea to resurrect plans for a high-speed trans-Pennine rail service – something included in his last Budget.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Mr Osborne said: “This autumn we will find out whether the UK government is truly committed to the Northern Powerhouse. Repeating the slogan is not the same as taking the decisions to make it a reality.”

Addressing a ‘packed house’ of political and business officials at Cloth Hall Court, Mr Burnham said: “It takes four minutes longer to travel by train from Manchester to Chester than it did in 1962. I think that pretty much makes for why we are here today.

“Today’s event shows that the patience of people in the North of England has run out. We are getting organised and demanding the government keeps all of its promises to people here and delivers a fair funding deal. People here have put up with clapped out trains and congested roads for long enough.”

Liverpool’s Steve Rotheram added: “We are already in a situation where for every £1 spent on infrastructure projects in the North, £6 is spent in London and the South East. This is clearly not equitable, and neither does it make economic sense. Only by redressing this enormous imbalance in investment can we ever hope to create a balanced, resilient and successful economy.”

In an angry rebuttal, Chris Grayling sent Andy Burnham a letter – seen by the Manchester Evening News, and dated after the summit – accusing the mayor of quoting inaccurate data and complaining at his lack of invitation.

He wrote: “I am sorry that your office did not directly invite ministers in the Department for Transport to participate in the event.

“We would have been able to highlight that we are the first government for decades to make northern infrastructure a priority and that we are delivering real change.”

The letter goes on to attack Labour for ‘how little’ it did to boost northern rail services during its time in office, and stating that rail investment countrywide is actually very similar, despite the north feeling shortchanged.

Mr Burnham responded that the issue of rail investment for the north is bigger than party politics. He said: “The fact that his own former cabinet colleague and Chancellor George Osborne has echoed our concerns shows that this goes far beyond party politics, and demonstrates that there are real issues here that Chris Grayling urgently needs to address.”


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