On Monday, The Yorkshire Post questioned the Government’s commitment to improving transport in the North. The paper also suggested that investment has been dropped in favour of a new Crossrail 2 project for London.
I want to reassure The Yorkshire Post and its readers that both these concerns are unfounded. In fact, in each case the precise opposite is true.
When on Monday I made a joint announcement with the Labour Mayor of London Sadiq Khan about a new Crossrail project, it was not to give the project the final go-ahead. Rather, it was to launch a drive to get the cost down. I said that any funding for Crossrail 2 must be fair to the UK taxpayer, work for the rest of the country and recognise other priorities. And I am very clear that these priorities include funding for transport in the North. Even though London has said it would pay for half the cost of Crossrail 2, and the land for the line has been under government protection since 2008, I won’t sign up until we have a plan to get that cost down. Part of my test will be whether our priorities in the north can still be met.
Among those is improving journeys for passengers travelling on the Midland Main Line through Sheffield. Last week I announced my decision to introduce cutting-edge new hybrid trains on this route, helping to bring quicker, more reliable journeys to passengers sooner than we previously thought possible. The availability of these new trains also means we no longer need to electrify the Midland Main Line between Sheffield, Nottingham and Kettering. We can deliver improved journeys, such as more reliability, more seats and shorter journey times in peak travel periods, but without all the delays, disruption and months of rail replacement bus services that are inevitable when conducting large-scale electrification works.
So the Government’s commitment to northern transport stands as strong as ever. By 2020, we will have spent over £13bn on improving northern transport – more than any government before us. It was this government that committed to creating a Northern Powerhouse, and we appointed a Northern Powerhouse minister to correct the historic economic imbalance between our country’s north and south. We set up Transport for the North and provided the body with £50m to drive forward projects that will transform northern transport.
We committed to building HS2; a £55bn high-capacity, high speed rail network that will connect eight out of 10 of Britain’s biggest cities – six of which are north of Birmingham. Last week I was pleased to announce the route that HS2 will take in the north, including from Birmingham to Sheffield and Leeds and on to York, paving the way to construction. In Yorkshire alone, HS2 will deliver thousands of extra train seats every day for passengers, reduce crowding on the existing rail network and cut the time it takes to travel to the East Midlands, Birmingham and London. These plans also allow for the introduction of new 30-minute services between Leeds and Sheffield city centres.
And it was this Government that in 2014 announced Northern Powerhouse Rail, an east-west rail line connecting Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Hull. We have so far committed £60m to take Northern Powerhouse Rail forward, and we are working closely with Transport for the North on potential route options and their costs and benefits.
In addition, we are currently designing major upgrades to the route between York, Leeds and Manchester, to enable us to deliver more improvements for rail passengers from 2022. Then there are also the many more local projects – such as the new stations at Apperley Bridge and at Kirkstall Forge, and the improvements to Leeds station. And there are the billions we are spending on Yorkshire’s roads, such as upgrades to the M1, the replacement of the A1 dual carriageway from Leeming Bar to Barton with a three-lane motorway, and an upgrade of the M62 between Leeds and Manchester to create a four-lane smart motorway.
We have not gone back on any of these commitments. The economy of the North of England has lagged behind that of the South for far too long, and the North’s inadequate transport connections are a large part of the reason why. I want to put that right, and the early signs are that our plans are having an effect. As The Yorkshire Post reported last week, an independent economic report has shown that since June 2014, the month we launched the push to create a Northern Powerhouse, Leeds’s economy has grown by eight per cent – more than London’s economy during the same period. And job creation in Leeds at a rate of 9.5 per cent in that time was also higher than London’s.
Of course, there is much more for us to do. But it will never come down to a choice between the south and the north. Both are in need of transport investment after decades of underfunding, and, under this government, both will get it. We will not let the North down.
Chris Grayling is the Transport Secretary.