Northern leaders call for Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 delivery in full

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.”

Bradford Council Leader Coun Susan Hinchcliffe said, “We’ve got a plan for clean growth in Bradford and it includes a new station on an electrified line which connects us better to the rest of the North of England. I fail to see why any rational Government, interested in promoting growth, wouldn’t be interested in working with Bradford to deliver this plan which would provide for 27,000 jobs and a £3 billion annual uplift to the economy.

“Soundbites are easy on the national stage but here in Bradford we’re working with real plans and real opportunity. I want to talk to Government about how to realise that opportunity in partnership with them. They need to believe in Bradford just as we and the rest of the Northern leaders do. Only by collaboratively working with business, local politicians and national government can we deliver the positive change that our residents want to see.”

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.”

Leaders at West & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, the CBI in Yorkshire and the Humber and the Institute of Directors, along with major employers such as Yorkshire Building Society, Provident Financial, Leeds Bradford Airport and Deloitte have signed a letter to Rishi Sunak calling for Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 to be delivered in full.

They are joined by hospital trust leaders, university vice-chancellors, sixth form college principals and other business leaders, all of whom remain convinced of the incredible value both projects would bring to Yorkshire, the North of England and Great Britain.

In total, the leadership of the employers of more than 50,000 people have signed the letter, which has also been sent to the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Communities and Housing Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Transport Mark Harper and the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Grant Shapps.

Its signatories call for those at the top of Government to both deliver Northern Powerhouse Rail in full across the North – including a new station in Bradford – and to recommit to delivering HS2 to Yorkshire.

Mike Briffett, president of Leeds Chamber of Commerce, said: “The Integrated Rail Plan’s conclusion to scrap Northern Powerhouse Rail and to not build HS2 to Yorkshire was greeted with widespread dismay amongst Yorkshire’s business leaders.

“As can be seen by the array of major employers that have signed this letter, the desire and case for recommitting to both projects in full remains undimmed.

“We hope that Rishi Sunak and other secretaries of state will agree that these projects represent massive opportunities for all of Britain and lend them unequivocal support.”