KATE OSBORNE: Take a long-term approach to the funding  of our railways

The recent announcement of the scrapping of HS2’s eastern leg and the downgrading of Northern Powerhouse Rail is yet more proof that this Government has no intentions of levelling up at all.

Thursday, 9th December 2021, 12:00 am
The Government’s integrated rail plan fails to deliver on the levelling up agenda and the much-needed commitment for transformational projects for the North.

It hardly comes as a major shock when the Conservative Government’s latest rail announcement goes back on their promise to level up in the North of England.

Earlier this year, the Prime Minister said: “We’re going ahead both with HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail.”

Now it seems this, like so many of Boris Johnson’s promises during his tenure as Prime Minister, amounts to absolutely nothing.

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The long-awaited integrated rail review will scrap the upgrade of the Leamside Line, affecting over one million people across Tyne and Wear.

And what makes this announcement even worse is that new analysis has shown that transport spending per head is over double in London than it is in the North of England, with £877.76 spent per head in London compared to £314.11 per head in the North East in 2019/20.

Boris Johnson regularly churns out phrases such as “world-beating” and his government is rebranding Network Rail as “Great British Railways”.

However, there is nothing world-beating or great about this recent announcement. Indeed, if Britain’s railways as a whole are in need of investment, then those of the north will clearly be far worse off than those in the south.

The London to Birmingham and Manchester leg of HS2 will go ahead, but Derby, Nottingham, Sheffield and Leeds will not benefit nearly as much as expected.

Then the scaling back of the east-west line which had been expected to remove the very real barriers to connectivity in the north will mean inferior transport links will continue to hold back a vast swathe of the north.

This is especially disappointing after COP26 in Glasgow and the need to shift travel from road to rail to meet net-zero targets.

It has been reported that there could now be more than 12,000 extra car journeys a day in the North of England due to the poor rail connections in the North causing congestion and impacting on air quality.

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The Government’s integrated rail plan fails to deliver on the levelling up agenda and the much-needed commitment for transformational projects for the North.

Without the full delivery of Northern Powerhouse Rail, the eastern leg of HS2, and improved capacity on the East Coast Main Line, our region’s potential will continue to be held back by outdated rail infrastructure.

It is time for the Government to take a proper long term approach to invest in our railways in the North East.

We know that Boris Johnson’s promises are worthless – he has proved this time and time again.

It was only in September that he had to back down on his £20bn dream to build a bridge or tunnel between Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Now he can’t even ensure the North East gets proper funding to invest in our railways.