Patrick McLoughlin aiming to win over doubters as 'honest broker' in fractious rail row

New Transport for the North chairman Lord Patrick McLoughlin is aiming to be an “honest broker” between mayors and the Government in the deepening row over the Integrated Rail Plan. Chris Burn reports.

When it became clear that Patrick McLoughlin was about to be appointed as the new Transport for the North chairman, the prospect was not greeted with universal acclaim.

Hull North MP Dame Diana Johnson warned in Parliament last month that giving the experienced Conservative politician the £60,000-a-year role had “more than a whiff of jobs for the boys” about it, especially as it was coming just weeks after the Government had taken key powers away from Transport for the North.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

But she retracted her criticism with a light-hearted apology just a week later after the former Transport Secretary and Tory Party chairman’s first intervention following his formal appointment was to an issue a statement saying the Government’s controversial Integrated Rail Plan “goes against the best interest of people in the North” after it downgraded previous proposals for HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail.

Patrick McLoughlin has been appointed as the chairman of Transport for the North for the next four years. Picture: Tony JohnsonPatrick McLoughlin has been appointed as the chairman of Transport for the North for the next four years. Picture: Tony Johnson
Patrick McLoughlin has been appointed as the chairman of Transport for the North for the next four years. Picture: Tony Johnson

Winning over hearts and minds in his new job is unlikely to always be as simple as that, but as he meets The Yorkshire Post in a Leeds hotel as part of a whistle-stop tour of the North this week, Lord McLoughlin makes it apparent that relationship-building across political divides will be among his early priorities.

Read More
Patrick McLoughlin seeking improvements to Integrated Rail Plan after 'over-prom...

When asked if the people of Yorkshire can trust a senior Tory party figure who hails from the Midlands to truly fight the corner of the North, the ex-miner and former Derbyshire Dales MP highlights the importance of retaining the confidence of the region’s Labour mayors in his abilities.

“Some people would say Derbyshire is in the North as well,” says Lord McLoughlin, who has been appointed for an initial four years. “I can’t change where I grew up, but I’m certainly not a Londoner saying what is going to happen in the North.

Lord McLoughlin is a former Transport Secretary and Conservative Party chairman.Lord McLoughlin is a former Transport Secretary and Conservative Party chairman.
Lord McLoughlin is a former Transport Secretary and Conservative Party chairman.
Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“If I don’t have the confidence of the likes of Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram, then I can’t do the job and I wouldn’t be the right person to do the job. What I’ve got to be is a bit of an honest broker in a way, because the metro mayors want things in five, six, seven years’ time. I understand that and I want to see those things too.

“But when you are planning major infrastructure, it just does take a lot longer than you ever anticipate.”

Lord McLoughlin also appears keen to turn down the temperature in what has become an increasingly fractious dispute between the Government and northern mayors over the Integrated Rail Plan.

Last month, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps kick-started a public war of words as he accused Labour mayors Dan Jarvis and Steve Rotheram of “absurd” and “irrational” criticism of the plan. It led West Yorkshire mayor Tracy Brabin to hit back at Mr Shapps for being “incredibly disrespectful to legitimate critique of Government policy”.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

When his own recent remarks that the plan “fails to deliver the step-change in rail services that is the only sustainable, long-term solution” are put to him, he says that while there was understandable disappointment because of expectations being built up before publication, he believes it nevertheless contains “very good and very useful” ideas.


When the plan was published in November, Transport for the North caused a stir by labelling it as “woefully inadequate”.

In a sign of the likely change of tack coming under Lord McLoughlin’s chairmanship, when asked if that is a phrase he would have employed, he replies: “I think the language I would use is: ‘This is the document the Government has put forward. There are things in it we like that are going to be important and bring a transformational change to transport infrastructure, but how do we build on it?’”

However, the use of more diplomatic language does not equate to an acceptance of the Government’s proposals as they stand.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Lord McLoughlin, a key supporter of HS2 as Transport Secretary under David Cameron, believes it is vital the high-speed link’s services reach Leeds in some form as the Government prepares to launch a study into how to do so.

“If you go around Birmingham you will start to see now where investment is being attracted because of HS2. It is always what I thought would happen.

“With infrastructure projects we are not talking about the next 20 to 25 years, we are talking about the next 100 years. It is important to get it right.”

However, he is not insistent that the HS2 line itself needs to get to Leeds – highlighting that faster services between London and Canterbury have been made possible by high-speed track that stops at the mid-way point of Ashford before connecting on to the cathedral city.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He says making the case for the broader Northern Powerhouse Rail network to be developed will be a longer-term mission.

The Integrated Rail Plan set out plans for a £17.2bn investment in Northern Powerhouse Rail – involving a new high-speed line between Warrington and Marsden on the boundary of Yorkshire that would be part of network improvements between Liverpool and York.

But they fell far short of the full £42.1bn plan put forward by Transport for the North which would have improved connections between northern cities from Liverpool to Hull, up to Newcastle and down to Sheffield, with a full new high-speed line between Leeds and Manchester via Bradford at the heart of the proposals.

Lord McLoughlin says: “The question is how do you get the better connectivity and connections between the great cities of Manchester, Leeds and Bradford? That’s quite a big issue, partly because of the topography of the area.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“We’ve got to work on that and say: ‘If we don’t think the IRP is the right answer, what is the longer term right answer?’

“We’ve got to make sure we can deliver what we can, make those improvements and then work on the longer-term issue and try and get the Government to buy into that. We have got to have a good solid argument as to why these things should be done.”

Boris Johnson's 'mistake' over Bradford and HS2

Boris Johnson appears to have made a mistake when he claimed that HS2 services could go to Bradford during Prime Minister’s Questions last week.

The Prime Minister sparked confusion with his remarks and The Yorkshire Post subsequently confirmed there are no current plans for HS2 to go to Bradford.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It appears Mr Johnson confused Bradford with Leeds as he responded to a question from Labour MP Naz Shah.

Lord McLoughlin said of the comments: “I haven’t seen it, but I have heard something about it. I haven’t seen the exchanges. I think in the bearpit that is Prime Minister’s Questions, occasionally even Prime Ministers make a bit of a mistake.”

Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today. Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you'll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers. Click here to subscribe.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.