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.

However the lack of any real detail has led to criticism from across West Yorkshire.

The region’s first metro mayor, Tracy Brabin, responded to the speech calling it “more rhetoric veiled under the slogan ‘Build Back Better’ and another promise of ‘Levelling Up’.”

She noted that in two weeks time at the Spending Review “the time for rhetoric will be over” and that the region needs the details about the Government’s plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail and “its delivery in full, with a stop in Bradford”.

Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe, leader of Bradford Council and chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority added: “While Northern Powerhouse Rail will revolutionise the life, work and leisure opportunities available to people and businesses across the north of England it is true to say that the city which will be most transformed by these better rail connections is Bradford. There is a compelling case for a new city centre station to be made a priority in the Integrated Rail Plan to better connect Bradford to Leeds and Manchester which will start boosting the economy of the north more quickly.

“A new train station in Bradford City Centre built to accommodate Northern Powerhouse Rail and better existing mainline rail services will unlock a central development area three times larger than Canary Wharf and slash journey times to Manchester by two-thirds and to Leeds by more than half. The benefits will be felt district wide.”

The council leader noted that the proposed site for the new train stationSt James’ Market “is a pragmatic and deliverable solution” which is owned by the council and could be delivered by 2030 as part of the city’s wider plans it is delivering as the UK’s leading clean growth city.

Hinchcliffe said: “When it renamed The Ministry of Housing the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities this government said its central mission was to level up every part of the UK. We believe strongly that Bradford district should be the poster child for Levelling Up.

“Earlier this week we wrote to Michael Gove and Andy Haldane to outline an opportunity to create the UK’s first Levelling Up Investment Area in Bradford, a new policy mechanism which will unlock new opportunities to regenerate Bradford district and towns and cities across the North. We look forward to discussing these plans with the government in the coming days.”