Businesses push for ‘firm commitment’ from Grayling on Northern Powerhouse Rail

Business leaders from across the North will today urge Transport Secretary Chris Grayling to show a “firm commitment” to Northern Powerhouse Rail.

Ahead of a Q&A session in Leeds, the Secretary of State will have a private meeting with the Board of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP) about key transport issues affecting growth and productivity in the region.

The visit comes as new research from NPP shows that more than 80% of Northerners say upgraded transport links across the region will give a major boost to local businesses.

According a One North study, commuting between Manchester and Leeds city regions is 40% lower than expected given their proximity, and a reduction of just 20 minutes in journey times between the two cities is estimated to be worth almost £7bn to the Northern economy.

Findings also reveal that three quarters of people think that the government has not invested enough in transport infrastructure in the North.

Lord Jim O’Neill, NPP Board member who will chair today’s meeting, said: “NPR will boost investment opportunities in towns and cities right across the North of England. Our polling underlines the huge public and business support for an east-west rail network. If the Transport Secretary is serious about spreading regional growth across Britain, it’s vital that he urgently backs our plans for a new rail link.

“The Northern Powerhouse Partnership is confident that we will see a commitment to this transformational scheme in the Autumn Budget, and we are looking forward to working closely with Government to make it a reality – starting in Leeds today.”

Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) is a scheme being proposed to reduce journey times and increase capacity across the North. Under proposals, passengers could travel between Leeds and Manchester in half an hour and Newcastle to Leeds in an hour.

Research undertaken by Transport for the North (TfN), has shown that less than 10,000 people can access four or more of the North’s largest economic centres within an hour. This would rise to 1.3m through Northern Powerhouse Rail. It would also provide links to Manchester Airport.

NPR would allow the Northern Powerhouse to have a true single market in terms of consumption, production and the labour market

NPP and a range of businesses across the North are calling on the government to commit to the construction of the NPR network as the next phase of the country’s High Speed Rail Network at the Autumn Budget on 22 November, as a key part of the government’s regional growth strategy.

More than 80 Northern businesses have signed a letter calling for commitment to NPR. They say it is vital that HS2 is planned with consideration of the proposals for Northern Powerhouse Rail, with six key junctions between the two networks needing inclusion in the forthcoming HS2 Phase 2B Hybrid Bill.

Steve Gillingham, director for the North at Mace, said: “Northern Powerhouse Rail will transform the economy of the North by dramatically widening the jobs market for millions of workers in the North. It will also improve Britain’s global trading ambitions by bringing a population of more than 10 million people within an hour of Manchester Airport, the North’s hub airport.

“Nobody begrudges the investment being made into Crossrail 2 for London but what we want this government to do is to also honour its commitment to the great cities of the North of England. Unless the government commit real funding for the Northern Powerhouse people will begin to believe that it is little more than political rhetoric.

“The government has officially acknowledged the historic underinvestment in Northern infrastructure and promised to tackle it. Northern Powerhouse Rail could be the catalyst for finally addressing the UK’s long-standing North-South divide. Let’s make it happen.”

Chris Fletcher, marketing & campaigns director at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said: “Our members are fully behind Crossrail North as they have been on every single infrastructure project that has been put forward to make good decades of underinvestment in the north of England. Following further uncertainty about the whole upgrade programme after the Secretary of State’s Summer announcement, members rightly want to see government confirm the new investment and give firm dates and timescales over when this will be built.

“Recent announcements have been ham fisted and ill-timed at best and the focus must very much be on not just saying the right thing but delivering it too.”