I have bought the argument that North needs HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, says Boris Johnson

Prime Minister Boris Johnson at The Yorkshire Post in Leeds. Pic: Chris Etchells
Prime Minister Boris Johnson at The Yorkshire Post in Leeds. Pic: Chris Etchells
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Northern leaders have been given a boost after the Prime Minister signalled that he accepted the need for a high speed rail network connecting the big cities of the North as well as HS2 to transform the region's transport links.

Boris Johnson reiterated his support for the Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) scheme and said he was committing £9bn - a "serious slug of money" - to the route between Leeds and Manchester which would cut journey times from 50 minutes to less than half an hour.

But praising the "transformatory" potential of the £39bn scheme during an interview with The Yorkshire Post, he said he also wanted it to bring high speed rail to the Liverpool, Bradford and Newcastle.

Read more: The Yorkshire case for HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail - Judith Blake

Read more: Boris Johnson: I'm mad keen on a One Yorkshire mayor in principle but they have to take responsibility

Business and political leaders in the North have previously argued that the greatest benefits to the North will only come if NPR is delivered alongside the HS2 high speed rail project connecting London with Leeds and Manchester.

Asked if he agreed, Mr Johnson said: "That argument I have bought. I get that." He said the main issue was how to get value out of HS2, the controversial project which faces an uncertain future after a government review was launched into whether and how it could proceed.

Earlier this week the Government admitted that HS2 will arrive in Yorkshire up to seven years later than originally planned and the scheme's budget has spiralled by more than £25bn, the Government admitted today.

Phase 2b of the scheme connecting London and the North will not be complete until between 2035 and 2040 - compared with the original target deadline of 2033 for the section from Crewe to Manchester and Birmingham to Leeds.

Mr Johnson said: "I think it's a very pricey project at the moment, but as I said repeatedly during the leadership campaign I'm going to hesitate for a long time before cancelling anything like HS2. All we want to do is see whether money can be re-profiled to do more in the North first."

He added: "It is about profiling and spend and priorities, with money it all depends on the time you spend it, from the Treasury's point of view they can commit to spending a huge sum of money if it is 20 years away, it's what happens now. That's the issue."

Claiming that his government was going to "absolutely demolish the whole concept of a North-South divide", the Prime Minister said infrastructure can be a "huge leveller".

He added: "Proper fast efficient transport, affordable, makes a huge difference. Sometimes it can be buses. We want to have a bus revolution in this country. I am a total bus obsessive. They do make a huge difference to people's lives.

"If you know a good bus, clean, green, efficient, is going to be coming over the hill to your job and that you can depend on it, it's going to raise property prices, it will help people live near their place of work. Buses can make a fantastic difference."

Henri Murison, Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership representing business and civic leaders, said: “Once again, I welcome the commitment to the North being shown by our Prime Minister, but we now need to see action to match the rhetoric.

"This week, the ‘Connecting Britain’ campaign launched, supported by major businesses and leaders of our major cities to make the case for HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail together which will be a major factor in rebalancing the economy between North and South, transformational for cities like Leeds, Bradford and Sheffield.

“The Northern Powerhouse Partnership review into HS2 will be considering this issue in full, and our expert panel will give their judgement on how the project should proceed including what could be delivered sooner by building from the North to complete the whole Eastern leg to Birmingham and on to London sooner.

"Scrapping the HS2  project altogether to please Ministers like Andrea Leadsom MP and others who voted in the leadership election for Boris who don’t represent the North and have never liked it, despite the case for economic rebalancing, would send a very negative message.

"That will be a litmus test for whether this government really cares about the North, with those like Labour transport spokesperson Andy McDonald MP and Northern Powerhouse Liberal Democrat spokesperson Tim Farron MP steadfast in their party’s support for HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail.”