'Tables have turned' on north vs south funding for rail and infrastructure, Network Rail boss says

It is “simply incorrect” to suggest that a majority of funds for rail and other infrastructure are handed over to London and the South East instead of the northern regions, the head of Network Rail has said.

Undated handout photo issued by Network Rail of a passenger using an escalator at Birmingham New Street station

Chief Executive Andrew Haines believes that the “tables have been absolutely turned”, with investment now heading towards the north, something that will only increase in the coming years.

When asked on a visit to Bradford whether it is the case that southern parts of the country benefit more from infrastructure spending, he told The Yorkshire Post: “It absolutely was a narrative that was very valid for probably 20 or 30 years, but, it’s now simply not true.

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“And I think when people see the outcome of the spending review in particular, it’s even less true now. “

With projects such as HS2 and the TransPennine route upgrade also in the pipeline, “in the next five to 10 years will be even less true than they’ve been for the last five years,” he added.

The high-speed rail project is already being constructed from London to Birmingham, and will then carry on to Manchester from the Midlands.

A second fork line was proposed to continue from Birmingham to Leeds - the Eastern Leg - however following weeks of rumours that this part of the project could be delayed or scrapped, the future of HS2 in Yorkshire is uncertain.

Mr Haines, who has headed up Network Rail since August 2018, praised Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s interest in transport, describing it as “further up his agenda than any prime minister in my lifetime.”

“Whatever your politics is very hard to say that our current Prime Minister isn’t really interested in transport,” he added.

“Look at his record when he was the mayor of London.”

He thinks that when it comes to north versus south spending, decision makers “heard frankly the legitimate case that has been made and the tables have been absolutely turned.”

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“If you look at money will be spent in south of the Thames compared to, you know, between Manchester and Leeds in for the next generation, you’ll see it’s a very, very different story,” he explained.

“Actually what we are doing is promoting more economic activity in the north of England, [...] which is good.”

However, despite the promises of cash for transport projects outside of London, one thing that was missing from Rishi Sunak’s Budget earlier this week was any news about the future of HS2 through Yorkshire or Northern Powerhouse Rail.

Leaders and communities are still awaiting the publication of the long-promised Integrated Rail Plan, which it is hoped will give some more clarity on whether these projects will go ahead or what form they will take.

Earlier this month, mayors from across the north of England wrote to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to request a meeting on Northern Powerhouse Rail, reiterating their belief in the importance of the project which is proposed to connect cities across the north of England from Liverpool in the west through to Yorkshire and beyond.

Tracy Brabin and Dan Jarvis were among those calling on the Government to commit to Northern Powerhouse Rail and warning they are at risk of “exacerbating the north-south divide” if they do not invest.

The Yorkshire Post understands that although conversations are ongoing between officials and mayors, a meeting is yet to be arranged.

A Government spokesman said: “We are absolutely committed to levelling up the North and delivering economic growth and prosperity through improved transport infrastructure.

“The Integrated Rail Plan will soon outline exactly how major rail projects, including HS2 phase 2b, will work together to deliver the reliable train services that passengers across the North and Midlands need and deserve.”