Tom Richmond: Hammond Autumn Statement leaves North’s transport in the slow lane – again

Will Chancellor Philip Hammond's Autumn Statement turbo-charge the North's infrastructure?
Will Chancellor Philip Hammond's Autumn Statement turbo-charge the North's infrastructure?
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AS this a Government for all, and not the privileged few, I had expected Chancellor Philip Hammond to use his first Autumn Statement to belatedly invest in the North’s transport network as a downpayment on his borrow to invest strategy.

There was no shortage of options. He could have given the green light to the dualling of the A64 coast road from York to Scarborough or committed the Government to a far more ambitious upgrade of the railway line from Hull to Liverpool to enhance social mobility and act as a catalyst for future investment. I could go on.

Yet, while Mr Hammond did publish a Northern Powerhouse strategy of sorts which contained a wish list of policies of previously announced, he used his Commons speech to signal a desire to build brand new road and rail links from Oxford to Cambridge.

Don’t get me wrong. These schemes are long overdue and were first discussed 25 years ago when John Major, a Cambridgeshire MP, was Prime Minister and campaigners were fighting to keep over those railway branch lines which will now be integral to Mr Hammond’s blueprint.

However it is a matter of genuine concern that there was no specific commitment to this region, Mr Hammond simply saying that discussions are still taking place between the Department of Transport and newly-formed Transport for the North to determine priorities.

I’m not encouraged – or reassured. This simply smacks of delay and dither when London politicians are already pressing for a second Crossrail scheme while Ministers still think – erroneously – that the HS2 high-speed railway line from London to the North West and Yorkshire will solve every transport challenge.

Even if it is built, and I have even more doubts if the cost of the Brexit process proves far more damaging to the economy than previously envisaged, it will do little to accelerate east-west transport links by road and rail.

And this was illustrated by recent Parliamentary exchanges when the Government reneged upon a previous promise to electrify the section of the trans-Pennine railway from Hull to Selby as part of a wider upgrade.

If it can’t afford this, what hope is there of the rest of the line from Selby to Leeds, Huddersfield, Manchester and Liverpool becoming a world-class service which transforms this region’s future prospects? And what hope is there of this HS3 line incorporating Bradford, a proud city with a disproportionate number of young people seeking work and who are, at present a drain on the economy because of sub-standard transport links?

Though the advent of Transport for the North might speed up local schemes, it will not be able to accelerate the major infrastructure projects, like the A64 road and development of HS3, without the Government’s political and financial support. I’m afraid the £1.3bn set aside by the Chancellor will not go far, even if some of the money does come here, which I doubt.

That’s why Mr Hammond’s speech was so disappointing. He could have said the North will be treated as an equal to London to the South where at least three times more money is spent on transport infrastructure each year. By choosing not to do so, he’s left this region in the slow lane – again.

I TAKE it that Yorkshire Water supremo Richard Flint and his staff do not care about the economic prospects of Leeds.

While repairs to the sewers along the A65 are a necessity, it seems incapable of programming the temporary traffic lights on the Kirkstall Road to favour traffic heading towards the city centre in the morning rush hour.

Even Leeds Council chief executive Tom Riordan is in despair at the utility company’s contempt for commuters. It’s quite simple. In return for permission to dig up roads, companies must ensure that they do everything possible to minimise delays – or face harsh financial penalties.

This is precisely the type of irritating inconvenience that is slowing down competitiveness and productivity, two recurring weaknesses in the economy.

AS a publicly-owned building, international monument and home to the Royal family, the taxpayer is duty-bound to fund Buckingham Palace’s £369m repair bill. Unlike previous administrations, this Government has not ducked its obligations.

Let’s hope that the relevant contracts are awarded to Britain’s best craftsmen so their work can be showcased to the world. And let’s hope opportunities are given to talented young people, via the Prince’s Trust, to learn new trades. That would be a ’win, win’ for the country.

A WEEK after referring the North Coast’s employment prospects, there was a more embarrassing Freudian slip from the BBC’s Andrew Marr when he began an assertion with these words: “If Brexit takes place...” What does he know?

TALKING of Brexit deniers, Tony Blair is reported to have described Theresa May as “a total lightweight” and dismissed Jeremy Corbyn as a “nutter”. It takes one to know one, I suppose.

WHY all the fuss about President-elect Donald Trump’s absurd suggestion that Nigel Farage should become Britain’s ambassador to Washington? The interim Ukip leader would only be interested in what best suits Nigel Farage rather than the best interests of the whole of the United Kingdom.

SHORTLY before the Autumn Statement, York Outer MP Julian Sturdy sent out a missive urging his constitutents to ‘Stay Well This Winter’.

Accompanied by a photo of Mr Sturdy having a flu jab, helpful tips on the Press Release included “Heat your home to at least 18C (65F), if you can”. What if you can’t?

FINALLY, Andy Murray once described his footballing allegiance as ‘anyone but England’. It was a tongue-in-cheek comment taken too literally by some on this side of Hadrian’s Wall. Yet, now that he’s the world’s number one tennis player and England’s footballers remain serial failures on the international stage, perhaps they should spend time on their next get-together examining the work ethic that has transformed Murray’s game and taken him to the very top. The likes of Wayne Rooney, Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson might find this more beneficial than getting sloshed at weddings or bonding at strip clubs while representing (?) their country on national service.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk