TRANSPORT Secretary Chris Grayling says it is not the Government’s job to advance Crossrail for the North after throwing down the gauntlet to the region’s political and business leaders.
The Cabinet minister makes the frank admission in an exclusive article for The Yorkshire Post ahead of Wednesday's transport summit in Leeds called by policy-makers, metro mayors and industrialists across the North after pre-election plans to electrify two key railway lines were dropped.
More than 70,000 people have already signed a petition calling for a high-speed rail line across the Pennines from Hull to Liverpool as well as quicker journey times to other cities in the North.
High-profile supporters include Mr Grayling’s former Cabinet colleague George Osborne – with the ex-Chancellor saying yesterday that this new railway could “transform the Northern economy” and help Prime Minister Theresa May relaunch her beleaguered government.
Yet Mr Grayling says the Government is already spending £13bn on Northern transport in this Parliament – the largest in government history – and that it is up to local leaders to determine how best to spend the transport resources at their disposal.
“Ultimately, it is not up to central government to grasp these opportunities,” he writes.
“The success of Northern transport depends on the North itself – on TfN (Transport for the North), businesses, mayors and devolved authorities, and on local communities.
They understand the North’s transport problems better than anyone, and with their knowledge, we can fix them.” Mr Grayling’s remarks will provoke anger from attendees at today’s meeting, who were already fearful the Government was abdicating its responsibilities and that its devolution programme does not take sufficient account of decades of under-investment in the North’s creaking transport infrastructure.
These concerns come after the Minister expressed enthusiastic support for a second Crossrail line in London while scrapping plans to electrify the Sheffield-to-London route and promising to look again at improvements planned for the Leeds-to-Manchester route.
However the unrepentant Minister denies that Yorkshire is being short-changed. “Sometimes we may have to adapt plans when evolving technology provides us with new options,” he adds.
“New bi-mode trains, which seamlessly transfer between diesel and electric power, mean we don’t have to electrify entire rail lines to achieve the same benefits for passengers.
“In some cases, we can deliver journey improvements faster, without the need for disruptive and expensive electrification works. This is what we are doing to improve journeys between Sheffield and London. There will also be bi-mode trains crossing the Pennines by 2020.”
Mr Grayling says he wants the region to prosper, adding: “It is central government’s responsibility to provide funding and a delivery structure that ensures efficiency, value for money and accountability. But beyond this, I want the North to take control.”