We need more than words, Osborne is warned on ‘northern powerhouse’

Chancellor George Osborne.
Chancellor George Osborne.
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GEORGE Osborne is today told to offer more than just words to his northern powerhouse by providing £15bn worth of transport infrastructure powers.

Researchers at the IPPR North think tank have said a new body called Transport for the North should be created to bring Transport for London-style powers to Yorkshire and elsewhere.

The body would be responsible for rail, road, sea and air transport, and decide priorities for infrastructure investment, franchising and ticketing.

Local leaders would be on the board, although elections could eventually be held to what would be one of the most influential groups outside of London.

The Chancellor has won praise for his backing of the northern economy, with a commitment to devolution coming alongside a pledge to back a HS3 project improving east west links over the Pennines.

But his support has come with a clear divided between cities such as Manchester, which has been backed with millions of pounds in spending powers, and cities such as Leeds which still await a devolution deal.

Think tank director Ed Cox said: “What we now need to see is the warm words on Northern growth translated into firm commitments to make this vision for a modern transport network a reality. An initial investment is needed, but this is about the North shaping its destiny through devolution of powers. The Budget is an opportune moment to spell out the extent of the party’s ambitions.”

Council leaders from the three northern regions have already laid the groundwork for a new power-holding body by coming together in a Transport for the North partnership, though this has not been handed devolved Government powers.

And some 30 northern councils are working together on the Rail North body which will be tasked in future with franchising out local rail services.

This week The Yorkshire Post revealed that a submission which should have gone to Government setting out what the north needs ahead of the Budget on March 18 has been delayed as local leaders seek to toughen up their ask of ministers.

The IPPR report was backed by West Yorkshire Combined Authority transport committee chair James Lewis, who said: “We are already looking at how West Yorkshire’s smart ticketing system could be extended across the north and as a director of Rail North Ltd I have already been closely involved with plans for greater local management of our rail franchises, rolling stock and stations.

“The Combined Authority considers an effective transport network as key to supporting its role of growing the local economy and developing new, affordable housing.”

He added: “If the government ants to achieve a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ it needs to show us the money and use the forthcoming Budget to commit investment into the North’s transport infrastructure.”

The IPPR plan would provide much-needed improvements to rail and road links between the cities that drive the Northern economy – Newcastle, Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and Sheffield – and other key Northern economic assets.

Proposals include appointing a Transport Commissioner for the North, who would be accountable to the public for northern transport. Having real transport controls would also allow the north to introduce a contactless, cross-boundary ticketing system.