Prime Minister Theresa May has refused to back calls for transport bosses in the North to be given the same powers as their London counterparts, in a bid to deliver £70bn of road and rail improvements and close the yawning divide between Yorkshire’s transport infrastructure and the capital.
Mrs May told The Yorkshire Post in an exclusive interview that the Government remains committed to providing funding for major transport initiatives in the North with the region already benefiting from “the biggest investment in a generation”, only weeks after a 30-year vision was proposed to bolster the region’s beleaguered road and rail network.
Former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott described the £70bn Transport for the North proposals as a “fraud” last month because the organisation lacks the same revenue raising and borrowing powers as Transport for London and is dependent on finding other sources of income to pay for ambitious plans including the creation of a “world-class railway for the North” that would cut journey times between Leeds and Manchester to 30 minutes.
But when asked by The Yorkshire Post if there was any prospect of TfN being given the same powers as TfL, Mrs May said they were “two different sorts of organisation”.
“Transport for London actually runs some of the transport in London and that is why it has got the revenue stream that is there.
“Transport for the North is about co-ordinating and bringing together things across the North in a strategic way, looking at what transport structures across the North should be. So it is a slightly different focus they both have.
“We are already putting significant sums of money into transport across the North, the biggest investment in transport in the North for a generation under this Government. We have put money into the North’s ability to prepare this vision and look at what might be necessary for the future. The North is being supported in terms of funding for transport.”
In November, the Government made TfN, backed with £260m of national funding, the first regional body to be allowed to create a statutory transport strategy which the Government must formally consider when taking funding decisions.
But Lord Jim O’Neill, one of the architects of the Northern Powerhouse project and a former Treasury Minister under George Osborne, said it was “crucial” TfN would eventually have the same powers as those seen in London. Barnsley MP and One Yorkshire devolution advocate Dan Jarvis said more ambition was needed to “rectify decades of under-investment in Northern transport infrastructure”.
TfN’s plans to help pay for its transport vision include using revenues from vehicle excise duty and the expected surpluses from the North’s two major rail franchises, and taking advantage of increases land values in areas of major infrastructure investment.
When asked what assurances she could give that the transport vision will be delivered, Mrs May said TfN is still “taking views on that 30-year vision”.
She added: “We are committed to ensuring that we are seeing improvements in transport infrastructure across the North. There is £13bn going into transport infrastructure in the North, the biggest investment for a generation.”