Transport Secretary Chris Grayling tells Political Editor James Reed he does not need convincing of the case for spending on improvements in Yorkshire
ONE of the eternal frustrations of those who pursue political careers is that years can be spent trying to bring about a particular change only for the next person in the job to scrap it with the stroke of a pen.
For Chris Grayling then, one of the great appeals when Theresa May asked him to become Transport Secretary last year was that “when you do something in this job it lasts”.
The legacy-friendly nature of the job will be underlined when he oversees the start of construction of the HS2 high speed rail line this year.
The downside of Mr Grayling’s role, however, is that everybody has an opinion about transport and a gripe about how it impacts on personal life or business.
And for Yorkshire, the concern is that this region continues to see much lower levels of spending than the capital and, as a new report out today underlines, a growing gulf with the North-West.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post before the latest report was published, Mr Grayling insisted headline spending figures do not tell the whole story.
“I think people need to understand it depends what projects are happening at any one time,” he said.
“So right now in London Crossrail is being built. It is by far the biggest infrastructure project in the country. That will inevitably skew the figures.
“When we come to build the northern legs of HS2, when we do Northern Powerhouse Rail, indeed as the trans-Pennine rail improvements unfold, that will rebalance.
“It really is just a matter of what is being built at any particular time. It is not a question of any intentional bias by government over one region or another.”
The emphasis on HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail - the plan to bring high speed rail services to trans-Pennine routes - has fuelled accusations the Government is happy to focus on long-term big-ticket projects for the North.
But the Transport Secretary insists the Government is “delivering improvements in Yorkshire” in the short term, pointing to the new franchise for local rail services which began last year which he described as “transformational”.
“The big thing is actually not whether you shave five minutes off a journey time. it is are you going round in a lousy old pacer train that was a rebuilt bus in the 1970s?
“They should have been put out to pasture a long time ago, they are going to be put out to pasture now.
“Northern is going to be introducing new trains, it is going to have refurbished longer trains, more carriages, better services and we’ve already started the rail improvements that are going to mean more services and improved services on both sides of the Pennines.
“That’s just one example of where real things are happening.”
The fear for many of those involved in developing transport projects is the inherent advantage enjoyed by London and the South-East where investment is almost guaranteed to produce a n economic return will forever leave the North struggling to convince the Government to spend here.
Mr Grayling rejects that analysis, promising it will “never be an issue” and that he “absolutely” understands the need for improvements.
“As far as I am concerned if you look at the need for trans-Pennine connections we have already announced the improvements to the A66 for example, much needed.
“I think there are other trans-Pennine routes that are really important to improve.
“I think if you look around the country and say what are the priorities for us, trans-Pennine routes have to be right up there and are right up there,” he said.
The Transport Secretary also claims he shares the frustration at the long term nature of many of the projects earmarked for the North of England with HS2 not scheduled to reach Leeds until 2033.
“My view is I wish projects came on stream quicker than they do. It seems to take an eternity to plan things, to consult on things.
“But it’s part of being a democratic society, you’ve got to do all the prepartory work.
“There are no big infrastructure project, or even small infrastructure projects, that have no impact on anyone.
“You have to look at the impact on communities, you have to look at the impact on the environment, you got to do the design work, you’ve got to tweak the design to minimise impact.
“It does take time.”
CHRIS GRAYLING has signalled a shift away from rail electrification amid ongoing delays to promised improvements.
Plans to upgrade the line between Hull and Selby have been shelved and ministers have been reluctant to guarantee previous targets on trans-Pennine and Midland Mainline electrification will be met.
Mr Grayling said: “In the 13 years Labour were in power, 10 miles of rail were electrified. We then moved on to try and electrify everything in one go. That’s caused problems, the skills issue has caused problems, and it hasn’t gone as fast or as well as we would wish.
“I think though that people shouldn’t get too distracted by progress or otherwise of overhead cables.”
Mr Grayling said passengers really wanted a “reliable train that is comfortable”.
The Transport Secretary added: “If you said to me right now which is the bigger priority for me, putting electric cables above the track or having more carriages on the trains, I’d go for more carriages on the trains.”