Cutting government funding for a number of northern transport projects while giving the green light to the Crossrail 2 rail scheme in London highlights “the gross imbalance” in infrastructure investment, the chair of the Special Interest Group of Municipal Authorities has said.
Sir Stephen Houghton
In an open letter to transport secretary Chris Grayling on Wednesday, Sir Stephen Houghton (Lab) said as long as this wide variation between the capital and the north of England persists “the system will fail to bear even the slightest resemblance to fairness.”
Last month the mayors and council leaders of northern cities and city regions urged the government to clarify its commitment to the Northern Powerhouse after Mr Grayling rowed back on electrifying lines in the North, and the Midlands, and rebuilding Manchester Piccadilly station.
Days later the transport minister announced the government is backing the £31bn Crossrail 2 scheme.
SIGOMA research has found the £31bn Crossrail 2 plans would result in an estimated additional 270,000 people being able to access central London during the morning peak period, while the North West aspect of the £38.5bn Northern Powerhouse Rail alone would enable 1.3 million more people access four or more of the north’s largest economic centres within an hour.
Sir Stephen, leader of Barnsley MBC, said the announcement had “compounded resentment” caused by the cuts to the electrification schemes and said as well as fuelling existing doubts over the government’s commitment to the Northern Powerhouse, the move undermined government pledges to “build a country that works for everyone”.
He said: “Our members are concerned by this short-sighted investment strategy and we are encouraging our leaders and those of all authorities to point out to the Transport Secretary the missed opportunity for balanced growth in our national economy.”
Sigoma’s 46 members are based in the north, midlands and on the south coast.
He added that the decision was of “particular concern” as transport investment was key driver of economic growth and so especially important if the transition to 100% business rate retention proceeds, despite the abandonment of the Local Government Finance Act.
Sir Stephen said: “The rationales for this change, namely greater self-sufficiency and self-determination, were to be welcomed in principle. However, as long as this perpetual imbalance in national infrastructure spending persists, we fear that the system will fail to bear even the slightest resemblance to fairness.”
He also claimed the relative gains in prioritising Crossrail 2 over the Norther Powerhouse rail project were “questionable”.
Commenting on the letter, Sir Stephen said: “For too long, residents in every region outside of London have had to put up with being considered second class citizens when it comes to transport investment. We cannot allow this to continue.
“Our members are concerned by this short-sighted investment strategy and we are encouraging our leaders and those of all authorities to point out to the Transport Secretary the missed opportunity for balanced growth in our national economy.”
A Department for Transport spokesperson said the £55.7bn being spent on the HS2 rail link would better connect Manchester and Leeds to the Midlands and London.
The spokesperson added: “In spending taxpayers’ money, it’s vital for the government to deliver value for the whole country. So while we have agreed to work further with Transport for London on Crossrail 2, we have also said that London needs to pay half of the upfront construction costs and we have not committed any public funding yet.”