BUSINESS and council leaders have told the Government to honour its transport promises to the North and set out a clear timetable for the delivery of a trans-Pennine high speed rail network.
Ministers faced demands to deliver on longstanding promises to electrify key rail lines and to ensure the North receives a fairer share of transport funding.
The Government was also urged to include a timetable for the delivery of trans-Pennine high speed rail, a project known as Northern Powerhouse Rail, in this autumn’s Budget and to promise that the scheme would not be sacrificed to fund emerging plans for a second Crossrail line in London.
The summit in Leeds also heard calls for the creation of a ‘Council of the North’ bringing together business, councils and other groups together to speak with a single voice to the Government.
The event was called after Transport Secretary Chris Grayling scrapped plans to electrify the Midland Mainline between Nottingham and Sheffield and suggested a commitment to electrify the trans-Pennine route between Leeds and Manchester could be downgraded.
He prompted further anger on the eve of the summit when, writing in The Yorkshire Post, he suggested “the success of Northern transport depends on the North itself”.
A statement issued after the Leeds summit said Mr Grayling was responsible for “worrying messages” that essential transport improvements would not be delivered in full.
It said: “We believe that people across the North have waited long enough for transport services on a par with other parts of the country.
“The disparity between transport in the North of England and London must now be addressed.”
Council leaders criticised Mr Grayling for suggesting the North should take responsibility for its transport problems when the powers and budget are controlled by Whitehall.
But they also seized on his comments as an invitation to open discussions over how major transport funding could be put in the North’s hands.
Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake said: “We’re very happy to take on this agenda. Give us real devolution, give us the powers, the resource and the ability to do things ourselves and we are very happy to step up to the plate.”
Coun Blake told the summit it was hard to imagine Mr Grayling making similar comments to other parts of the country, particularly the South-East.
She continued: “If this is serious, if they really want to talk about devolving the powers and resources that we need I think all of us would say we are ready to really take charge of our destiny.”
Newcastle Council leader Nick Forbes accused Mr Grayling of “passing the buck without passing the bucks”.
Sheffield Council leader Julie Dore criticised Mr Grayling’s “adversarial” approach.