Tory MP suggests Chris Grayling should not cancel rail electrification across Pennines and says Whitehall is 'biased' against North

A Tory rising star has suggested Transport Secretary Chris Grayling should avoid falling victim to Whitehall 'bias' against the North and press ahead with plans to electrify the a key section of the cross-Pennine railway.
Conservative MP Neil O'Brien is a former special adviser to George Osborne and Theresa May.Conservative MP Neil O'Brien is a former special adviser to George Osborne and Theresa May.
Conservative MP Neil O'Brien is a former special adviser to George Osborne and Theresa May.

Huddersfield-born MP Neil O’Brien, a former Treasury and Number 10 special adviser, said London has had massive investment in transport relative to the North despite being richer.

And he suggested the electrification of the TransPennine rail route between Leeds and Manchester should go ahead as part of plans to develop high-speed rail across the North.

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Mr O’Brien opposed Mr Grayling’s decision to cancel the electrification of the Midland Mainline which serves his Harborough constituency.

Mr Grayling has failed to deny recent reports that he is set to similarly cancel planned electrification across the Pennines.

Tom Richmond: How Chris Grayling misled the North over rail electrification – and why he should now resign But Mr O’Brien told The Yorkshire Post: “Ultimately people want to see good, regular, reliable services.

“There are a lot of advantages in electrification. I’m not close to where things are at with TransPennine but I would say that most of the country seems to have electrified their systems.”

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He added: “London has done very well over time as well. In fact London has got higher public spending per head despite the fact it’s a lot richer than the rest of the country than the average.

“So I think there is a case for trying to make some of those big investments, I think things like both electrification and efforts to develop high speed rail East to West are important.”

Mr O’Brien, who was an adviser to former Chancellor George Osborne, also recalled the difficulties in securing investment in northern transport in Whitehall.

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The Government in 2015 was forced to issue a written ministerial direction to scrap infamous Pacer trains on northern rail networks, as officials would not sign it off after cost-benefit analysis.

Mr O’Brien said: “If those trains had been in the South there wouldn’t have been a discussion, officials would have signed it off.

“There is a problem about all decisions being made in this very small part of the world - civil servants are great, a lot of brilliant people, but they are mainly young, London-based twenty and thirty-somethings who have got a particular view of the world so devolution and a strong agenda to rebalance the economy are quite a useful antidote to that naturally occurring bias.”

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A Department for Transport spokesman highlighted the £3bn planned TransPennine upgrades but did not commit to electrification.

They added: “Every decision we make is based on a robust and unbiased appraisal system.

“The next few years will actually see higher government spending in the North, compared to the South.”