'A Whitehall power grab': Northern transport body stripped of responsibility for Northern Powerhouse Rail

The Government has been accused of a "power grab" after funding and responsibility for Northern Powerhouse Rail were stripped from a Northern transport body.

The Department for Transport, led by Grant Shapps, has taken full control of the Northern Powerhouse Rail project

The Department for Transport (DfT) has announced Transport for the North (TfN) will stop developing plans for the high-speed rail project and its Government funding will be cut from April 2022.

It comes after the Government published the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) yesterday and revealed it had scaled back plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) and HS2.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The Government has promised £17.2bn for a 40-mile high-speed line between Warrington, Manchester and Marsden in Yorkshire. It also opted to upgrade and electrify the existing Transpennine Main Line as part of a £5.4bn project, but refused to build a new line between Leeds and Liverpool, which TfN had been calling for.

Read More

Read More
From bold promises to disappointment - how HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail were...

TfN, which brings together Northern leaders and experts to secure transport investment, described the Government's IRP as “wholly inadequate” and said it was investing less than half of the £40bn needed to transform the Northern rail network.

The transport body had been developing plans for NPR and was due to complete a business case after the IRP was published.

But David Hughes, director general of the Government's Rail Infrastructure Group, said the DfT will “assume the role of sole client for the programme" as this could lead to "significant efficiencies and clear direction to improve the speed of development".

He also said TfN will continue to be involved in the project, but act as an adviser.

In a letter to TfN chief executive Martin Tugwell, he wrote: “I take the view that the current arrangements will not be sustainable as NPR transitions to delivery."

He added: “Consistent with the changes outlined above, DfT intends to assume immediate and full responsibility for finalising the NPR strategic outline case (SOC).

“There remains a considerable amount of work to align the SOC with the funding, delivery and policy position set out in the IRP, which needs to happen rapidly, and without lengthy delay.”

'This is a Whitehall power grab'

Shadow rail minister Jim McMahon said: "It was clear that once Transport for the North found it's own voice and came up a Northern Powerhouse Rail plan the Government didn't support, it would meet it's end.

"This is a Whitehall power grab and the death nail to transport devolution."

TfN raised concerns about its future before the IRP was published, amid growing speculation about NPR.

A report released ahead of a meeting next week, said NPR “forms a key part of Transport for the North’s purpose” and the organisation, which spends around 80 per cent of its budget on planning for the project, has been “shaped and scaled to support it”.

The IRP states that building the NPR line that was suggested by TfN would cost an extra £18bn, open in 2043 and shave just four minutes off the journey between Manchester and Leeds.

But it also states under the new plans, some NPR trains will begin running this decade, and journeys between Manchester and Leeds will be 22 minutes faster.

According to the 162-page plan, the upgrades will cut journey times from Leeds to Liverpool to 73 minutes (currently 106) and Leeds to Bradford to 12 minutes (currently 20).

A DfT spokesperson said: "As we deliver Northern Powerhouse Rail, as part of our £96bn investment into our railway, we must ensure there is clear accountability and oversight which provides significant benefits for passengers as quickly as possible.

“As with all major projects, the programme will be managed by Government. This ensures it will works closely alongside Network Rail and HS2 Ltd to maximise efficiencies, while ensuring Transport for the North can continue to provide important strategic direction and advice.”