Plans to connect areas outside London cannot be “watered down”, the Government has been warned, after billions of pounds of investment in transport within regions was announced.
The Treasury said £7 billion for intracity connections outside the capital will be confirmed at the Budget, to be spent on schemes including those involving buses and trams.
But leaders in the North, while welcoming the investment, fear it could mean bigger projects such as HS2 or Northern Powerhouse Rail could be scaled back.
Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership lobbying group, told ITV: “The problem is that, without the full delivery of HS2, building from the North, starting from Leeds, down Sheffield, without Northern Powerhouse Rail and a new station in Bradford, the North of England will be short-changed.
“What we’ll see is levelling down rather than levelling up.”
On Sunday, Chancellor Rishi Sunak tempered expectations that leaders will get any answers soon, despite long-running speculation that the eastern leg of HS2, which was due to be built to Leeds, will be scrapped.
He told Trevor Phillips On Sunday on Sky News that metro mayors Andy Street and Andy Burnham have welcomed the announcements he has made.
But he said: “I think your specific question actually relates to something different. So what the money announced yesterday was about is what we call ‘intracity transportation’, that’s about how do we get people who live in and around a city to be able to get into the middle of it and out again easily.
“We actually don’t do as well as we should do on that if you look at cities like, say Marseille or Lyon in France – it takes virtually no time at all, or within half an hour, for people to get from the out to the in. That journey time in some of our cities outside of London can take twice as long.”
He added: “That’s what we’re trying to fix with the settlements that we’ve announced.
“What you’re talking about is something different, and that’s about how we connect up our towns and cities to each other. That’s going to be part of something called the Integrated Rail Plan, and plans for that for will be announced shortly.”
But metro mayor for West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin told Trevor Phillips On Sunday: “What is important for us is that stop in Bradford. We can’t have a watered-down version of our transport network.
“Here in West Yorkshire, we have had £174 per head spent on transport. In London, it’s over £500.
“We have less per head than any other community across the country. We have been underfunded for decades.
“Now is the opportunity for Government to be bold, to be ambitious and to come with us with our vision for West Yorkshire to have that London-style transport system that will really make us that powerhouse we can be.”
West Yorkshire mayor Tracy Brabin welcomes the cash announced by the chancellor for northern transport, but argues it was "only one part of the jigsaw" as she stressed the importance of the HS2 extension to the region.#Phillips https://t.co/dz1COkTpYw pic.twitter.com/EYmI1fLdlG
— Trevor Phillips on Sunday (@RidgeOnSunday) October 24, 2021
Meanwhile, Jake Berry, who chairs the Northern Research Group of Conservative MPs, called for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to deliver on his promise of devolution.
The Conservative MP for Rossendale and Darwen and former Northern Powerhouse minister spoke about foreign direct investment on BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend.
He said: “Frankly, after the Covid pandemic, the Government doesn’t have enough money on its own to make the commitment to level up these communities and we want to see new businesses with good, highly paid jobs… locating in the regions of the UK.”
He added: “It’s really important the Prime Minister delivers on his promise of devolution, so you have mayors who can go out and talk to the world…
“I do think Andy Burnham has done a good job in Greater Manchester in the area of attracting foreign direct investment.”