Britain’s new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has thrown his weight by an ambitious £39bn transport plan that would transform the North’s rail network, creating high-speed connections across the region.
In his first statement to MPs since he took over from Theresa May at Number 10, Mr Johnson said that the Northern Powerhouse Rail plan should “definitely” go ahead.
Asked by Conservative MP Andrew Percy if Government support for the project could help prop up the UK’s struggling steel industry, Mr Johnson replied: "I am a huge fan of the Northern Powerhouse Rail. I went up to Manchester Airport and saw the plan.”
He added: "It's a truly visionary and exciting plan and I think we should definitely be doing it."
The pledge was welcomed by Henri Murison, Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.
In a statement he said: “Northern Powerhouse Rail will unlock the North’s economic potential, raising productivity and underpinning the creation of hundreds of thousands of new jobs.
“Without new and substantially improved rail lines connecting our cities across the north, it will be impossible to create as dynamic a labour market as London, with people taking jobs either side of the Pennines with ease.
“This will rebalance the UK’s economy and close the North-South divide.”
Commenting on Mr Johnson’s new Cabinet appointments, Mr Murison added:
“In Jake Berry as Minister of State [for the Northern Powerhouse] alongside Rishi Sunak as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, we finally have strong voices for the North at the Cabinet table.
“Long-standing supporters of Northern Powerhouse Rail, today’s encouraging words from our new Prime Minister alongside the fact we now have a team better placed to drive forward the Northern Powerhouse agenda means a project to create jobs and homes will be seen through, alongside essential progress on devolution, education and skills.”
However, Andy McDonald, Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary, questioned the commitment.
He said: “There is a chasm between the rhetoric of consecutive Tory Prime Ministers on investing in transport in the North and what is delivered.
“Londoners receive almost three times as much transport spending than those living in the North. Yet the Conservatives scrapped rail electrification in the North and slashed budgets, at the same time as green-lighting further investment in London and the South-East.
“If the Prime Minister is serious about closing the North-South divide, he should match Labour’s more than £10 billion commitment to deliver a Crossrail for the North, which will connect Northern cities and help transform the economy of the region.”