Northern mayors ‘deeply concerned’ about plans to scrap long-promised rail upgrades

·2-min read

Northern mayors have written to the government demanding clarity about the future of the region's rail network after The Independent revealed long-promised upgrades are to be severely pared back.

Leaders in South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester and the Liverpool city region said they were “deeply concerned” by reports the flagship Northern Powerhouse Rail scheme is to be scaled down, while the eastern leg of HS2 – connecting London to Sheffield and Leeds – will be effectively shelved.

The quartet of Labour mayors – Dan Jarvis, Tracy Brabin, Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram – have long argued the development of both lines is fundamental to the economic regeneration of the north.

“Northern Powerhouse Rail offers one of the most significant and tangible ways to demonstrate to voters that this government is sincere about meeting its central aim of levelling up the country,” they wrote in a letter to transport secretary Grant Shapps.

And the four, who represent a combined eight million people, added: “Failure to commit fully to this transformative project…would be a false economy.

“Indeed, not investing in the north now risks further exacerbating the north-south divide and only increasing the burden on the Treasury in the long run.”

It follows Sunday’s revelations that next week’s Integrated Rail Plan will see far less invested in northern capacity than had previously been both publicly promised and privately hinted at.

To save money, it is understood that proposals for an underground through station in Manchester – which would ease a notorious bottleneck around the city – will be refused.

Bradford, meanwhile, will not be included in the new east-west NPR line – despite the city having a population of half a million people and being ideally located between Leeds and Manchester.

Both the Yorkshire leg of HS2 and a spur to Liverpool will be kicked into the long grass.

Responding to reports Louise Gittins, chairperson of Transport for the North, called the likely downgrades “disappointing”.

She said: “The prime minister said only last week in Manchester that transport is ‘one of the supreme leveller-uppers’ and he was very clear in saying he ‘will do Northern Powerhouse Rail’.”

Anything less than a full connection between the north-east and north-west, she added, would “not only be bad news for people living in the north, but it will be shirking one of the biggest decisions for our country in a generation”.

Responding to the initial reports of the downgrade, a spokesperson for the Department for Transport said: “The Integrated Rail Plan will soon outline exactly how major rail projects, including HS2 phase 2b and other transformational projects such as Northern Powerhouse Rail, will work together to deliver the reliable train services that passengers across the north and Midlands need and deserve.”

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