Northern Powerhouse Rail in doubt – again – as government seeks to cut costs

The future of the Northern Powerhouse Rail plan is once again in doubt as the Government seeks to trim £50 billion from its budget.

Although Transport Secretary Mark Harper said on Wednesday that no decision had been made on the HS2 and Northern Powerhouse rail plans, he said the government was considering “all options”.

Earlier today former transport secretary Grant Schapps, now the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said there was “not much point” in going ahead with the full Northern Powerhouse Rail, originally intended to link Leeds with Manchester.

Henri Murison, chief executive of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said it would be a serious setback for levelling up if the government stuck with the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP), which would upgrade existing lines instead of creating a new link across the Pennines, and would bypass Bradford.

“It means they’re still falling short of the ambition in the 2019 manifesto on which they were elected, having also missed out Hull,” he said. “It raises serious questions about their plans for growth, given that the North’s woeful transport infrastructure continues to weigh down our economy and hold back private investment.

“This option saves little to nothing for Treasury coffers now. Northern Powerhouse Rail is still in early development stage meaning that the vast majority of the investment needed is well beyond the current spending review period.

“In July, the transport select committee demonstrated that the £36 billion of Boris Johnson’s cuts to HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail significantly worsened the cost benefit ratio of the overall package. When the Department for Transport responds in full to the committee they won’t be able to defend the handiwork of former No. 10 advisors who mishandled the original IRP so badly.”

West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin said, “It would be a backwards step not to build Northern Powerhouse Rail in full with a stop in Bradford. That is the right decision for the North and the rest of the country. The Government’s constant dither and delay is costing our regional economy almost £2 billion per year. I hope the new Prime Minister and Transport Secretary will visit West Yorkshire to see the opportunity for themselves and discuss with local leaders before making any hasty decisions.”

Louise Haigh, MP for Sheffield Heeley and Labour’s shadow transport secretaryresponding to Shapps’s comments, said: “A lost decade of broken Tory promises has left the north with second-rate infrastructure, and rail services in crisis, holding the economy back.

 “Rishi Sunak told voters he would deliver Northern Powerhouse Rail, before abandoning it at the first opportunity. This Conservative government have no mandate, no platform and no plan – they crashed the economy, and now they want northern communities to pay the price.”