Timetable for Northern Powerhouse Rail
As you will recall, the 2015 Conservative Party Manifesto made a clear commitment to investing in new rail infrastructure linking the cities of the North of England.
Transport for the North is in the process of developing detailed plans and we are grateful for the support that has been provided to date. But, following the announcement earlier this week on the Government’s preferred route for HS2, we believe that Northern Powerhouse Rail should now be prioritised and expedited.
We are reaching the point where our motorways across the North are at saturation point. Journey times are increasing and capacity on our trains is at the limit. Unless we urgently develop a credible plan to get the North moving, we could suffer a loss of confidence from inward investors.
Back in June, the Northern Powerhouse Independent Economic Review identified gaps in skills and transport infrastructure as the two crucial factors which hold the Northern economy behind the rest of the UK. It concluded that, if the right investment and focus is put into both, over 1.5 million new jobs could be generated by 2050, and productivity (GVA) could be 15 per cent higher than currently.
As the UK prepares to start the process of leaving the EU, the need to deliver a convincing plan for skills and transport in the North is now urgent. We believe that Northern Powerhouse Rail provides the opportunity to do just that.
This issue becomes more important following this week's announcement on HS2. Without the same clarity and urgency on the timetable for west-east rail, there is a risk that HS2 could end up being a magnet that draws economic activity and skilled workers to the south, widening the North-South divide.
Therefore, as representatives from across the North of England, we write to ask you to use your forthcoming Autumn Statement to make a firm commitment to the construction of Northern Powerhouse Rail as a major transport priority for the country, and to set out a clear and expedited timetable for its completion. We understand the pressure on resources and that is why we ask you, specifically, to make it a higher investment priority than Crossrail 2. We struggle to see the justification for prioritising further infrastructure investment in London and the south whilst the North continues to lag behind.
Clarity over the timetable would galvanise the Northern economy and create the major boost to skills that we need. It would allow us to set the shared goal of training a new generation of young people to build this new railway for the North. It would encourage foreign investment and allow businesses to plan for expansion. By adding West-East connectivity to North-South capacity, we would finally have a coherent transport plan for the whole country that people would welcome.
If Britain is to make a success of Brexit, then all parts of the country need to have a plan for the future. To drive growth in North, we urgently need to see a bold, clear and ambitious plan for Northern Powerhouse Rail and we look forward to working with you to make a reality.