Philip Hammond has hinted that the Government will throw its weight behind a major strategic rail project in the north later this year, when he delivered his Spring Statement today.
In a speech in the Commons, the Chancellor reaffirmed his support for the Northern Powerhouse rail project and said ministers would consider the business case in the run up to the Spending Review, which is set to take place later this year.
He told MPs: “I reiterate today this Government’s commitment to the Northern Powerhouse rail project and look forward to considering the Transport for the North business case ahead of the spending review.”
The £39bn project would increase rail capacity and speed across the region’s network, and would significant upgrades and new railway lines.
However, the Chancellor’s statement was poorly received by the influential think tank IPPR North.
The organisation’s director Sarah Longlands said: “In the midst of Brexit chaos, Westminster has once again left the North with little certainty about a future way forward.
“Forecasts for this year are fairly meaningless when the outcome of Brexit is still an unknown. Even if these can be relied upon, growth has been downgraded to 1.2 per cent from 1.6 per cent which will impact on wages, living standards and quality of life. This will have a direct impact for the North of England.
“We need the resources and the powers to be able to mitigate the risks of Brexit for people in the North, yet the Chancellor failed to mention the devolution framework or the Shared Prosperity Fund once in his statement.
“The North cannot wait for Central Government to provide certainty for Northern economies. The government must devolve power and resources to places like the North, so that we can plan for our own future and realise our own potential”.