Ministers have stripped Transport for the North of powers to 'prevent levelling up', MP claims

The Government has stripped Transport for the North of its powers to “prevent levelling up,” a Labour MP has claimed, as Ministers continue to face an angry response to the Integrated Rail Plan.

Left to right Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin, Acting Chair Councillor Louise Gittins Cheshire West and Chester and Martin Tugwell Chief Executive Transport for the North attend a meeting of the Transport for the North Board at the Queens Hotel in Leeds (PA)

Cities across Yorkshire face being “held back for another 20 years”, according to Dame Diana Johnson, as Labour accused the Government of a “Whitehall power grab” having taken back a proportion of the northern body’s powers.

An Urgent Question tabled by Dame Diana brought Transport Minister Andrew Stephenson to come to the Commons to respond.

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Speaking at the top of the debate, Dame Diana, MP for Kingston upon Hull North said: “Levelling up was meant to be a central part of the Government’s strategy to increase overall UK economic growth”.

Instead, communities such as Bradford or Hull “will be held back for another 20 years at least, with poor connectivity, small speed and inadequate capacity for passengers and freight”, she added.

“By removing Transport for the North’s responsibility for developing Northern Powerhouse Rail ministers reduce scrutiny and accountability and show no interest in working in partnership with the North. So much for devolution.

“So when challenged, ministers have decided to stop the criticism by gutting the powers of Transport for the North and centralising to Whitehall responsibility for rebranding the Transpennine route upgrade as Northern Powerhouse Rail. This Government is taking back control to prevent levelling up.“

Last week, the Department for Transport wrote to Transport for the North to tell them that their ability to develop plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail was being transferred back to Westminster.

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It came just a day after the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) revealed that the HS2 line from the Midlands to Leeds had been scrapped and Northern Powerhouse Rail significantly scaled back.

Mr Stephenson said Dame Diana was “confused” about “what Transport for the North does.”

“Transport for the North is not a delivery body nor has it ever been,” he said.

“Their statutory function purely is to develop a strategic transport plan for the North in the same way that Midlands Connect do for the Midlands.”

He said that while she “might want to stand in this chamber and talk about process and minor technical changes to delivery models.

“I know what her constituents and mine, both in the North of England, would want this Government to talk about which is about getting on with delivering the changes people want to see.”

The exchange came on the same day that Transport for the North held their first board meeting since the announcement of the Integrated Rail Plan in Leeds.

Mayors and other leaders gathered to discuss their response to the plans, which they have previously described as "woeful".