Delays to rail plans ‘let down people of the North’

Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council

Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council

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A YORKSHIRE council leader has accused the Government of letting down the North over its decision to put a major rail electrification scheme on hold.

Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake says the decision to shelve the long-promised electrification of the transpennine rail route has echoes of previous failures to deliver major transport schemes for the city.

In a letter, seen by The Yorkshire Post, she urges Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin to reinstate the scheme so it can deliver in time for its original completion date of 2019.

The electrification of the transpennine and Midland Main Line routes was put on hold by the Transport Secretary last month as he ordered a review of Network Rail’s £38 billion investment plan because of rising costs and slipping timescales.

The Yorkshire Post’s Back on Track campaign is calling on Ministers to reinstate both schemes and set out a clear timetable for their delivery.

In her letter, Coun Blake describes electrification of the main rail route between Leeds and Manchester as a key part of the vision to turn the North into an economic “powerhouse” and says the city needs “rapid improvements” on transport to maximise growth.

She writes: “Given the history of cancelled or stalled major transport proposals in Leeds, we had hoped that we were moving into a period of greater certainty that would facilitate the seamless delivery of our collective priorities. Sadly, the people of Leeds feel this is yet another example of Central Government letting this part of the country down, despite all the encouraging words in recent months and will want to see a revised plan for delivering the economic benefits for the North as quickly as possible.”

Coun Blake questions the impact the delays on current investment in Yorkshire railways will have on the prospects for future projects.

Before the General Election, Mr McLoughlin commissioned a ‘task force’ to identify priorities for the next round of rail electrification schemes.

The Calder Valley line through Halifax and the Leeds to York via Harrogate line were among the schemes listed but the Government has never offered a likely timescale for their delivery but they were expected to follow the transpennine and Midland Main Line projects.

The decision to put both projects on hold has provoked particular anger because it was made just weeks after the General Election where the Conservatives had stressed their commitment to rail electrification and transport investment in the North as they tried to secure a string of key marginal seats in Yorkshire.

Documents have emerged showing Network Rail were already preparing to delay its investment programme before the election but both the Transport Secretary and the Prime Minister have insisted voters were not misled.

Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox has tabled a House of Commons motion backing the Back on Track campaign calling for the Government to restart the electrification schemes.

She said: “The Yorkshire Post campaign speaks with one voice for the Yorkshire MPs, businesses, commuters and others who are outraged that after all the pre-election promises, electrification has since been shelved indefinitely.

“This decision undermines the Government’s so called northern powerhouse agenda and its commitment to helping boost the northern economy.”

Former London transport commissioner Sir Peter Hendy has been installed as the new chairman of Network Rail to review its plans.

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