Government insists it has the 'interests of the North at its heart' over transport

Transport Minister George Freeman has insisted the Government has “the interests of the North at its heart” in transport infrastructure.

During transport questions in the House of Commons today, York Central MP and Shadow Transport Minister Rachael Maskell said: “Labour knows the true value of connecting towns and cities across the North with our integrated transport plan, investing in public transport, in public ownership, to work for the passengers, not the shareholders.

“We will start by investing £39bn into the whole Crossrail for the North project. So how much will [Mr Freeman] today commit to the project? Only £15bn?”

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But Mr Freeman replied: “I think the nation will be interested to hear the opposition frontbench announcing major plans for investment when their economic plans will see massive loss of investment in this country and massive economic damage.

“We can only fund good transport infrastructure, we can only fund the good NHS when we have economic growth.

“And the truth is this government is proceeding with the biggest investment package in road, rail, and infrastructure in this country since the Victorians, £76bn, and we're spending more per head on passengers in the North than in the South. This has got the interests of the North at its heart.”

Mr Freeman was also questioned on whether passengers travelling on Northern Rail should be compensated, after it was announced Pacer trains would be used on the network past the end of the year, breaking a key promise.

A joint letter from Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis, Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake and Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham this week said the “retention of Pacers beyond 2019” is an insult which is indicative of “the unceasing disparity between transport investment in the North compared to the South”.

A Pacer 142 train from the 1980's leaves Leeds station bound for Selby. Photo: JPI Media

And today Mr Jarvis, who is also Labour MP for Barnsley, said: “I'm sure the minister shares my frustration that rail passengers in the North will have to continue to endure the use of Pacer trains well into 2020 despite assurances from Northern that they would be taken out of service by the end of this year. Does the minister believe that passengers should be compensated as a result?”

Mr Freeman said the Department for Transport “does share the disappointment” and said: “Pacer trains are not fit for purpose for the 21st century”.

But he stopped short of promising any compensation. He said: “Northern retired the first of its 102 Pacers in August and it plans to remove two thirds by December 2019.

“Northern advise that subject to receiving appropriate dispensation up to 34 pacers will remain in the fleet, but I can assure you we are determined to make sure that that fleet is properly modernised.”