News | Published July 29 2019

“Colossal” benefits to northern high-speed rail route, says prime minister

New prime minister Boris Johnson has said that a high-speed trans-pennine rail route between Leeds and Manchester will be delivered during a speech at Manchester’s Science and Industry Museum.

Johnson said that it will bring “colossal” benefits including a “turbo-charge” to the UK economy.

Around 100 people were gathered at the museum for Johnson’s address.

The Northern Powerhouse rail project is part of Johnson’s pledge for a high-speed railway link across the north of England, which will come at an estimated cost of £39 billion.

He wore a badge emblazoned with the words "Northern Powerhouse" as he made his speech.

In the speech, Johnson highlighted liveability, connectivity, culture and power and responsibility as four key "ingredients" for national success.

Johnson said that providing good public services, affordable housing, safe streets, fast broadband and more responsibility and accountability for local areas are all integral to this blueprint.

As part of his promise, Johnson said that council leaders and local communities will be given more power.

He said: ”We are going to level up the powers offered to mayors so more people can benefit from the kind of local structures seen in London and here in Manchester.”

The new prime minister also reaffirmed his commitment to "rebalance power, growth and productivity across the UK”.

He also said "the unglamorous local services which people use every day", such as local bus services, were in need of improvement.

Johnson also blamed previous politicians for failing young people in the Greater Manchester area.

He said that "It's we, us, the politicians, our politics” that have failed young people, not the areas in which they live. This, he says, has resulted in swathes of youngsters being left in a state of “hopelessness" or harbouring a “hope to one day get out”.

The Northern Powerhouse Partnership has conducted its own survey concluding that local companies believe that the upgraded network would boost productivity by connecting the northern towns and cities and attracting investment.

Full details of the proposed route are set to be released this autumn after the HS2 review has taken place.

HS2 was originally proposed as a high-speed railway to connect London and the Midlands with Wigan, Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds. The segments of the route connecting to Leeds and Manchester have not been estimated for completion until 2033.

Sir John Armitt, chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission, believes that Johnson’s plans must be integrated with HS2.

Armitt said: ”The PM's decision today must be integrated with plans for HS2, and matched with devolved funding and powers for city leaders in the North - as set out in our National Infrastructure Assessment.”

Elsewhere, the proposals have been greeted with some scepticism.

Andy Burnham, incumbent mayor of Greater Manchester, has called upon the government to take “real action now to back up the prime minister’s words”.

While admitting Johnson’s promises “certainly sounded good”, Burnham warned that he heard “something very similar” pledged by former chancellor George Osborne in the past, but has since seen rail services in the area regress.

Burnham said: "The focus on buses and a London-style transport system for Greater Manchester sounded very good to me but we will have to see real action now to back up the prime minister's words.

"What about Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle? All of those places need a commitment. Commuting is a daily nightmare for people in large parts of the North and it costs £4 here for a single bus journey, £1.50 in London. How can that be right?”

Labour shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald has said that the Northern Powerhouse has been promised “time and time again” by the Conservatives but has never been delivered, casting doubt on Johnson's ability to deliver the project.

McDonald said: "With Boris Johnson's staggering failure to build a bridge across the Thames and an estuary airport, I'm not confident he'll be able to deliver better train services between Leeds and Manchester.

"What we really need is Labour's Crossrail for the North, from Liverpool to Hull and up to the North East to unleash the economic potential of the region. Just upgrading the rail between Leeds and Manchester, equal to the same distance as the Central Line on the London Underground, won't achieve that.”

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Authored by

Scott Challinor
Business Editor
July 29 2019

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