Osborne pledges cash for railways

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YORKSHIRE’S creaking rail network is set to receive a £130m boost after the Government pledged more money for the Northern Hub.

The cash will be used to extend the Network Rail project by increasing capacity on the Hope Valley line between Manchester and Sheffield. Lines between Rochdale, Halifax, Bradford, Bolton, Preston and Blackpool will also be improved.

So far £85m has been invested in the Northern Hub, a £560m scheme that, if completed, it is estimated will add £4bn to the Northern economy and create between 20,000 and 30,000 new jobs by introducing 700 more train services each day between Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Leeds and Newcastle.

Delivering his budget yesterday, Chancellor George Osborne said: “For years, transport investment in the north of England was neglected. Not under this Coalition Government.

“We are working with our great cities to devolve decision-making powers – and we are striking a ground-breaking deal with Manchester to support £1.2bn in growth-enhancing infrastructure.”

The Ordsall Chord, a link in central Manchester received £85m from the March 2011 budget. Now Network Rail bosses are pushing for the remainder of the cash to be confirmed in rail budgets being announced later this year.

Chief executive David Higgins said: “Today’s announcement of further funding for the initial stages of the Northern Hub is a welcome show of confidence in rail bringing benefits to passengers as well as driving economic growth.

“To realise the project’s total value of £4bn to the Northern economy and create between 20,000 and 30,000 new jobs, the final stages of funding will need to be supported in the rail budgets to be announced later this year.

“When completed, this project will be a clear demonstration of how investment in smart infrastructure can unlock economic potential by connecting commerce and communities across cities such as Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Leeds and Newcastle with 700 new train services each day.”

Network Rail said additional funding is also getting to other projects in the region, with £50m allocated to date, subject to completion of business cases. Schemes include £150,000 to improve the line speeds at Conisborough tunnel in South Yorkshire.

Metro – the West Yorkshire Integrated Transport Authority – welcomed the investment. Chairman James Lewis said: “We have always said that the £560m Northern Hub proposals should be funded in their entirety to unlock the potential for growth across the north of England and the £130m of funding, on top of the north trans-Pennine electrification and Ordsall Chord schemes already agreed, will help push the proposals forward.

“The Northern Hub also underpins the Yorkshire Rail Network Study, which identifies the potential to bring up to £12bn of economic benefits to our region.

“By improving journey times along the Calder Valley, people and businesses along the route – which runs through Bradford and Halifax – will benefit from increased employment options in West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester, as will leisure visitors to the Pennine tourist areas.”

However the investment does not go far enough if the Government is to successfully create jobs in the region, according to the IPPR North think-tank.

IPPR North director Ed Cox said: “We welcome the announcement of further elements of the Northern Hub plans as another important piece of the puzzle but the government isn’t going far enough if we want to see real jobs growth in the North of England.

“Osborne was right to admit that there has been chronic under -investment in transport in the North. IPPR North have previously argued that transport investment is unfairly skewed towards London and the South East and our research has recently shown that planned future transport investment in the North East is just £5 per head compared to £2,700 per head in London and the South East.

“Transport investment in the North is vital if we want to see economic growth and people coming off benefits and into employment. The link between better transport infrastructure and regional economic growth is clear.

“Not only does immediate investment create local jobs, but improved transport results in time savings to journeys and greater economic dynamism.

He added: “If the government is serious about rebalancing the economy, they need to commit to investing in job creation in the North of England which is currently being hardest hit by unemployment.”