The claim that northern transport infrastructure has suffered from “chronic under investment” was challenged yesterday as it was suggested the problem was instead that local leaders were not spending money correctly.
The allegation was made during a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, where the need to unlock a transport revolution was discussed.
As Arianna Giovannini, Interim Director of think tank IPPR North, introduced the event, she said “there is an issue of chronic under investment in infrastructure”.
But interjecting Martyn Bolt, a member of West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s Transport Committee and leader of the authority's Conservative group, said: “I’ve seen that there is investment. You talk about devolution, it’s how that investment is then attributed, that is a local decision.
“So there is a situation where maybe the investment isn’t going where the local people want it.
“With respect, that is not a matter of chronic under investment, that’s a matter of local decision making not supporting local priorities.I think we need to set that from that start that the Government is giving money to the region, how it is spent locally is not a matter for central government.”
Mr Bolt was challenged by Ben Still, West Yorkshire Combined Authority Managing Director, who joked: “You don’t want more money, is that what you’re saying?”
But Mr Bolt said: “We want the money, but as a Conservative I see the money being spent in Labour areas.”
Mr Still said: “I think things have never looked better. But that’s partly because we’re coming from 70 years of neglect, so there’s a long way to go.
“So I will defend that point about chronic under investment, not because of anything other than we’ve got such a legacy of under investment to address over the coming years. But the conditions in order to be able to achieve that - I think - are looking promising.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already promised to deliver the Manchester to Leeds leg of the Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) project at a cost of £9bn.
Jeremy Corbyn also committed to delivering NPR at Labour’s conference last week.