Northern Powerhouse minister under fire over rail uturn

James Wharton Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government with responsibility for the Northern Powerhouse.
James Wharton Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government with responsibility for the Northern Powerhouse.
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Northern powerhouse minister James Wharton has insisted the policy is about “so much more” than transport links after the Government announced delays to multi-billion pound plans to overhaul Britain’s railways.

The Tory minister faced questions about the decision to “pause” the electrification of the Midland Mainline and the TransPennine route between Leeds and Manchester in the Commons today.

Labour’s Richard Burgon (East Leeds) asked: “Were you as surprised as my constituents at the decision to suspend the electrification of the Leeds to Manchester rail line?

“Does this help or hinder the Government’s stated objective of a so-called northern powerhouse generating economic growth in Leeds and the north?”

Mr Wharton said the Government was spending £13 billion on rail in the north to ensure more trains, newer trains and more regular journeys.

He added: “It is right the transport secretary (Patrick McLoughlin) should look at the value for money for all projects. His decision is the correct one. But the northern powerhouse is about many things, not just transport.

“We are going to build it, we are going to deliver it. We are going to deliver for the economy of the north of England.”

Fellow Labour MP Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) also raised the issue, suggesting “northern power cut” as a more apt name.

She asked: “With the pause in the electrification of the TransPennine service, turning the northern powerhouse from that into a northern power cut, when did the secretary of state actually know that the policy was in such difficulty?”

Mr Wharton replied: “Transport plays a key role in that, but it is about so much more.”

In a statement to the House of Commons last week, Mr McLoughlin blamed Network Rail for the problems and told MPs none of the executive directors would get a bonus for the past year.

But Labour have repeatedly demanded to know whether ministers knew parts of the £38 billion five-year modernisation plan were in “serious difficulty” ahead of the election, claiming the public has been deceived.