PM backs Northern Powerhouse Rail but offers no timetable

Boris Johnson

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has recommitted that the Government “will do Northern Powerhouse Rail” in his speech to the Conservative Party conference, allaying fears the major infrastructure scheme would hit the buffers.

But he didn’t add any details about funding, timing or the critical question of whether a new station at Bradford would form part of the plans.

Nor was there any information about HS2, despite preparatory work for the eastern leg from Birmingham to Leeds currently on hold fuelling speculation it will be scrapped.

Johnson was vague as he said: “We will link up the cities of the Midlands and the North.”

In his speech in Manchester today, the Tory leader defines his “levelling-up” agenda with transport alongside skills playing key roles.

He told the audience that the country’s national infrastructure “is way behind some of our key competitors”.

“It’s a disgrace you still can’t swiftly cross the Pennines by rail, it’s a disgrace that Leeds is the largest city in Europe with no proper metro system, a waste of human potential that so many places are not served by decent bus routes,” he said.

“Transport is one of the supreme leveller-uppers and we are making the big generational changes, shirked by previous governments.”

He went on to say there will be further investment in road adding 4,000 “clean, green buses, made in this country, some of them running on hydrogen”.

The PM also insisted that as the country “built back better” it was time for people to return to the office.

He said: “If young people are to learn on the job in the way that they always have, and must, we will and must see people back in the office.”

Johnson focused heavily on the levelling-up agenda, arguing that by boosting “left behind” parts of the country it will ease pressure on the “overheating” south-east of England.

He said: “We have one of the most imbalanced societies and lopsided economies of all the richer countries. It’s not just that there’s a gap between London and the South East and the rest of the country, there are gaps within the region’s themselves.”

He pledged that no one should be ‘left behind’ and that “levelling up works for the whole country and it is the right and responsible policy, because it helps to take the pressure off parts of the overheating South East, while simultaneously offering hope and opportunity to note to those areas that have felt left behind.”

The prime minister’s speech is his first to the massed Conservative faithful since before the pandemic.

This week’s conference in Manchester has taken place amid concerns over rising inflation, supply chain problems, and petrol and worker shortages.

He used his speech to proclaim an optimistic, combative message to Conservatives, and the wider electorate.

The PM also told businesses to invest in workers here instead of relying on low-paid staff from abroad with controlled immigration and a move towards a “high-wage, high-skill” economy.