Minister defends 'unambiguous' Northern transport plans despite uncosted commitments

The Transport Secretary has defended the Prime Minister’s Northern transport policy as ‘unambiguous’ despite still-still uncosted commitments over railways and roads.

Rishi Sunak on Wednesday announced that “every single penny” of the £36 billion of savings made by cancelling the Northern legs of the high speed line between London and Manchester would be put into transport projects across the North, West Midlands and the South under a scheme called Network North.

Analysis by The Yorkshire Post of projects announced by the Prime Minister found that the region is set to receive at least £8.3 billion of rail, bus and road upgrades in specific projects including trams in West Yorkshire, a new station in Bradford and new connections for Hull, Sheffield and Rotherham.

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In addition, the region is set for an unspecified share of around £8 billion from various new pots of money divided between the North and the rest of the UK.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper during the Conservative Party annual conference in Manchester last week.Transport Secretary Mark Harper during the Conservative Party annual conference in Manchester last week.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper during the Conservative Party annual conference in Manchester last week.

It comes amid questions over whether transport projects announced last week could be scrapped or scaled back as ambitions rather than commitments in the coming months.

Several Yorkshire projects listed in Government documents are uncosted, with no transport upgrade given a definitive timeframe for when it would be built.

Funding for some schemes, such as the Shipley bypass, will come from larger pots of funding shared across the North, while others, such as the Don Valley Line between Sheffield and Stocksbridge, and a new station at Haxby have no allocated funding.

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The Don Valley line is one of several previously axed Beeching lines which saw cuts in the 60s and 70s under the then British Railways chief Dr Richard Beeching, which saw more than 2,300 stations closed and around 5,000 miles of track cut.

The Campaign for Better Transport estimated in 2020 that each mile of track could cost between £9 million and £16.7 million to reopen.

Yesterday the Transport Secretary denied that there was “anything ambiguous at all” about the Government’s Network North plans, amid questions over which parts of the scheme were guaranteed to be delivered and which ones were merely suggestions of how funding could be spent.

Speaking to Sky News, Mark Harper, did not promise to reopen the Leamside Line in the North East, despite it appearing in plans published by the Government last week.

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It comes after a pledge of £100 million for a mass transit system in Bristol was listed in documents before disappearing a day later, with Mr Harper noting that it was for the West of England mayor to decide how to spend the money.

Last night officials were unable to specify how much around a dozen Yorkshire projects would cost individually, or when they would be built.

Many of the Yorkshire projects announced by the Prime Minister have previously been the casualty of cuts after being announced by ministers, some of which cancelled when Mr Sunak was in the Treasury or in Downing Street, raising questions over whether they will be delivered.

All of the transport announcements in Yorkshire which have been allocated the £8.3 billion of funding have previously been announced by the Conservatives, including the upgrades to Bradford as part of Northern Powerhouse Rail which were scrapped by Rishi Sunak last year.

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The Don Valley Line and Haxby station were both previously announced as part of a Restoring Your Railways Fund.

Louise Haigh, the Sheffield MP and Labour's shadow transport secretary, said: “Their back of a fag packet plan is in disarray, and this shambles shows once again the Conservatives simply aren’t serious about delivering for the North.

“Only after 13 years of failure could the Conservatives pledge to take two decades to deliver projects they’ve already promised.

“These are promises that have been made to the North and Midlands countless times before - and frankly they’re sick and tired of empty promises from this broken Government.

“The truth is, catastrophic Conservative mismanagement has blown a hole in HS2 and after this fiasco, why should anyone in the North believe they can deliver anything they say.”