Northern leaders offer to help fund new rail line if Boris Johnson cancels cuts

·3-min read
Network Rail has been urged to take action to retain train punctuality improvements seen over the coronavirus pandemic (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Archive)
Network Rail has been urged to take action to retain train punctuality improvements seen over the coronavirus pandemic (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Archive)

Northern leaders have urged Boris Johnson to re-think his rail cuts for their region and offered to stump up extra cash themselves to fund improvements.

Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday the mayors of city regions like Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, and Merseyside said the North could make a contribution funded by the increased land values new projects would create.

The approach, known as "land value capture" was used to help finance London's Crossrail line – which raised £4.1 billion through a business rate supplement.

The leaders are angry at the government’s decision to scrap plans for a high-speed line between Leeds and Manchester via Bradford, which would boost capacity and cut journey times.

The government last week confirmed that it would offer only a cut-price version of the project, with no stop in Bradford, less capacity, and longer journey times – mostly comprised of upgrades to existing lines.

"Give us the best version and then that unlocks the most benefits the economy, and we can capture some of that to pay back for the cost of the infrastructure," Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said.

Mr Burnham said it was essential for the new Northern Powerhouse line to run via Bradford to improve east-west journey times and unlock capacity.

The Department for Transport developed Northern Powerhouse Rail as a co-client with Transport for the North over the last few years – but at the last minute declined to fund the whole scheme.

The government also scrapped the top of the eastern leg of HS2, linking the East Midlands with Leeds via South Yorkshire.

Introducing the press conference Councillor Louise Gittins, the chair of Transport for the North, said there was "complete unity in the room" between Northern leaders.

South Yorkshire Mayor Dan Jarvis said the Northern leaders were going back to ministers to ask them to think again, and "explore the art of the possible".

"We still want to make the case for the Government to do what they originally committed to do - governments change their minds, U-turns are made, this Government has made quite a few of them," he said.

Tracy Brabin, West Yorkshire Mayor, added: "We are not going to accept what we have been given, this is an opportunity to make it better."

The mayor, whose patch includes Bradford, one of the plan's biggest losers, also claimed the Government's current plans did not represent value for money, saying: "If we do it in this way, we will have to do it all over again in a decade."

In the Commons on Wednesday the Government was accused by Labour MP Diana Johnson of "taking back control to prevent levelling up".

Dame Diana said the regeneration of cities such as Hull and Bradford "will be held back for another 20 years at least, with poor connectivity, small speed and inadequate capacity for passengers and freight" under the government's cut-price rail plan.

Transport minister Andrew Stephenson said: "This Government remain committed to HS2 and remain committed to Northern Powerhouse Rail, and this plan that we set out last week explains how we would deliver the benefits to communities across the North sooner than ever expected."

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