TRANSPORT Secretary Chris Grayling faces fresh accusations today that he’s backtracking on promises to transform Yorkshire’s creaking rail network.
Leaked Parliamentary papers seen by The Yorkshire Post reveal that Transport for the North will have the right “to provide advice” to Mr Grayling on the region’s needs, effectively giving him the power of veto.
Now former Treasury minister Jim O’Neill – one of the Northern Powerhouse’s architects – has urged the Treasury to intervene ahead of the Budget on November 22 to prove that the Government is committed to reversing decades of under-investment and creating a high-speed line across the Pennines.
Though Mr Grayling’s department says TfN will be the first such body outside of London to “have statutory influence”, it declined to comment on its remit.
It is the second major controversy to hit the Department for Transport following this summer’s decision to cancel the electrification of the Midland Mainline, and reappraise planned improvements to the trans-Pennine line between Leeds and Manchester.
Writing in The Yorkshire Post in August, Mr Grayling said the creation of TfN would give the “North greater autonomy and control” after he challenged Yorkshire’s political and business leaders to sort out the area’s transport challenges.
However, Lord O’Neill fears the Minister is going back on his word and urged the Minister to think again. “In all the fuss about the cancelled rail electrification schemes, he said it was up to the North to sort out its transport needs,” the peer told this newspaper.
“He’s right about that. One of the six objectives of the Northern Powerhouse is the North taking ownership. Unless it is given powers, it can’t.”
Unlike Transport for London which gave the capital’s mayor full policy jurisdiction, the proposed TfN – according to the draft regulations being laid before Parliament – would be advised by a partnership board and scrutiny committee. Membership would comprise of representatives from 19 local or combined authorities.
However, while its remit is “to prepare a transport strategy”, it is limited to providing “advice” to Mr Grayling. It can, however, make “proposals” to the Transport Secretary if it wants new responsibilities.
Lord O’Neill said the Government’s response to the leak would signify whether Theresa May can inject some “oomph” back into the Northern Powerhouse.
Calling for the 40 London-based civil servants working on Northern transport policy to be relocated here, he added: “The Northern Powerhouse was a major policy. When George Osborne and David Cameron went, and I know because I was there for 10 weeks, it became a non-existent policy under the PM’s aides Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill.
“Since they have been fired, it has definitely got life back...but not with the same thrust.”
‘Biggest investment in transport in the region’
The department for Transport last night played down fresh concerns about its commitment to this region.
A spokesman told The Yorkshire Post: “We are carrying out the biggest investment in transport in the region for a generation, investing billions of pounds across the north of England to better connect communities, build the Northern Powerhouse and deliver improved journeys for passengers right across the region.
“We have also given Transport for the North £60m to develop plans, and look forward to working with them once proposals are submitted later this year.”