Yorkshire fears as Crossrail wins cash promise

A GOVERNMENT pledge to protect London's £16bn Crossrail scheme from cuts has sparked concerns Yorkshire could face a bigger share of the pain as spending is slashed.

More than 1bn worth of transport schemes in the region has been put on hold until after the autumn spending review, but yesterday Transport Secretary Philip Hammond sparked concern by saying the Government's 5.1bn package for Crossrail was "committed" and he wanted the scheme "delivered in its entirety".

While the Yorkshire schemes on hold – including Leeds trolleybuses, various road improvements, park and ride in York and extra tram carriages in Sheffield – were not as advanced as Crossrail, businesses and politicians are concerned Yorkshire's transport infrastructure will suffer from a continued focus on London.

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The policy director at Yorkshire and Humber Chambers of Commerce, Nick Pontone, said: "With massive projects such as Crossrail under construction today and other big ticket projects coming down the line such as the London to Birmingham high-speed rail leg, it does leave us very concerned that essential schemes promised for Yorkshire and Humber will be squeezed out as cuts are made to the transport budget. This must not be allowed to happen.

"When David Cameron said in Shipley last month that he wanted 'a plan to breathe economic life into the towns and cities outside the M25', we would expect that plan included upgrading our transport infrastructure. Otherwise the prosperity gap between north and south will continue to grow."

Mr Pontone added: "Our bottom line is that we needed these schemes yesterday and the Government must show it has a medium term plan to sort out these infrastructure problems in the same way as it will set out a deficit reduction plan in next week's Budget.

"We'd like to see some clear decisions on these schemes by the time of the Spending Review, rather than leave them at the mercy of the long winded decision making process for transport projects, so businesses can get on and plan with greater certainty."

Mr Pontone spoke out after the Transport Secretary said the budget for Crossrail – a line crossing London from east to west which is the biggest transport infrastructure project in Europe – remained under constant review and that he aimed to "engineer out cost" at any opportunity.

But he added: "The DfT funding is committed to the project. Obviously the project budget is under constant review with Crossrail and the sponsors, but we want to see this project delivered in its entirety."

His comments appear to give Crossrail a certainty not enjoyed by other schemes after the Department for Transport cut hundreds of millions of pounds earmarked for local transport programmes and suspended all local projects pending financial review in the autumn.

He added: "It brings huge value to London but as you would expect at a time of financial stringency we have to ensure, and the Mayor of London and I are absolutely side by side on this, we have to ensure that this project is delivered with maximum value for the tax payer so we will look for every opportunity to engineer out cost at every opportunity to manage risk."

The Department for Transport has already spent 2bn on the project, which was first mooted in the 1990s, only to be shelved by a Tory Government and revived by New Labour.

Politicians from the region have already been offered a meeting with Mr Hammond as they seek to press the case for investment in the region's ailing transport infrastructure.

Cameron looks into uplands

Prime Minister David Cameron says he will "look carefully" at a report into how to preserve struggling upland communities.

The inquiry by the Commission for Rural Communities suggested farmers should be paid for protecting the landscape and providing clean waters in some of the country's most beautiful areas.

It found that millions of pounds of public money intended to help uplands communities was wasted and actually damaged rural life, and called for a new uplands strategy to be adopted.

Mr Cameron told MPs he would study the report, and added that it was necessary to recognise the connection between beautiful landscape and active farming.