Grant Shapps promises Northern leaders a ‘direct line to ministers’ as part of £600m railway boost
The Department for Transport has announced £600 million of extra funding for northern rail links (PA)
Grant Shapps has promised leaders in the north of England a "direct line to ministers" as part of a £600 million boost to rail networks.
The majority of funding will go towards the Transpennine main line between Leeds, Huddersfield and Manchester, with £589 million earmarked for upgrades and electrifying the service.
Alongside the fresh investment, the Transport Secretary has also announced a new Northern Transport Acceleration Council (NTAC), which the Department for Transport claim will "ensure northern leaders have a direct line to ministers" and help “cut bureaucracy and red tape” to speed up project delivery.
But Labour has dismissed the announcement claiming the North has “heard all this before” and still receives significantly less funding than London and the South.
Mr Shapps said: “People across the North rightly expect action, progress and ambition, and this government is determined to accelerate improvements as we invest billions to level up the region’s infrastructure.
“We are determined to build back better at pace, and this new council will allow us to engage collectively and directly with elected northern leaders to build the vital projects the region is crying out for.”
Elsewhere, the Transport Secretary, who also serves as the Northern Powerhouse minister, lamented the “chronic underfunding of transport infrastructure in the North and elsewhere in comparison with the South East”.
Writing in the Yorkshire Evening Post on Thursday, he said: “It takes time to build and improve transport links, but we are determined to close this gap in the life of this Parliament, not in 10 or 20 years’ time.
“Our plans for HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail are ambitious – but their sheer scale means they will not be finished until the late 2030s. Passengers need change sooner than that.”
He also set out his vision for the NTAC, adding: “[The council is] a forum bringing together Northern mayors and council leaders with me or one of my junior ministers to unblock infrastructure work.
“Hands on and task-led, it will benefit from grassroots knowledge and a hotline to the highest level of government, ensuring we can make a strong and unified case for investment.”
'HEARD ALL THIS BEFORE'
But claims that these measures would put transport in the North on a par with other regions was dismissed by Labour.
Jim McMahon MP, Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary, commented: “Whilst we welcome an announcement of devolution of transport powers, we’ve heard all this before.
“Transport for the North was set up to deliver the same aims as this new body, yet it had its roles and responsibilities pulled from underneath it.
“The geographical divide in transport spending has exacerbated under the Tories.
“Transport spending in the North is two and half terms lower than in London. If the North had seen the same per person investment as London over the last decade, it would have received £66 billion more.”
Meanwhile, the Campaign for Better Transport welcomed the extra funding, but called on the Government to do more to improve rail links in the North.
Chief Executive of the group Darren Shirley said: "Projects like this are exactly what's needed to help transport meet net zero carbon emissions targets while rebuilding the economy fairly and sustainably.
“But investment shouldn't stop here: we want to see a rolling programme of electrification to decarbonise rail around the country while retaining and developing skills in the industry.
“Across the board, let's prioritise infrastructure that supports sustainable transport, such as rail reopenings, transport interchanges and bus priority schemes."