A £15billion plan asking for improvements to transport between five northern cities has been backed by Chancellor George Osborne at a speech in Manchester.
The One North report, compiled by representatives from Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool, Sheffield and Newcastle proposes a 125mph TransPennine rail link aimed at cutting journey times between the cities.
This has been met with scepticism from those in the Labour camp, who have challenged the Conservatives poor record on boosting the northern economy and are pushing for specific commitments to be made by Osborne.
Speaking at Beetham Tower, Mr Osborne said: “If we can bring these northern cities together with these individual transport schemes that create a collective northern powerhouse, then you might achieve something really important in our country that has eluded successive governments of different colours – a real improvement of economic wealth in the north.”
Osborne, who is MP for Tatton, said the plans would be the centrepiece of his autumn statement outlining the long-term economic plan for the country.
He said: “I think this kind of proposal is affordable.
“Of course, £15billion is a lot of money – it’s about the size of the Crossrail project in London. We have got £100billion capital budget to the end of the decade.”
Labour’s Sir Richard Leese, Manchester City Council Leader, said: “The current constraints on our transport networks, the product of years of neglect and under-investment affect the competitiveness of the North.
“East-west journeys take almost twice as long as equivalent journeys in the south and our rail links are too slow and uncoordinated.”
The proposed investment plan looks to the next 15 years and also puts out an urgent call for improved access to ports, spending on motorways and new freight and logistics terminals.
As well as the TransPennine rail route, the plan proposes better access to Manchester Airport, modernisation of rail-rolling stock and addressing pinch-points on the rail network.
Speaking about the proposals in today’s report, Leeds City Council leader Keith Wakefield told the Leeds Evening Post: “Getting the right investment in our transport systems would deliver unprecedented change to better connect people and jobs, which is crucial if we also want to rebalance the national economy.
“This report demonstrates once again that only through tackling our outdated transport system will the North be able to fulfil its true economic potential, benefiting our own local communities and the country as a whole.”
Aware that many of the plans originated from its own party, Labour have suggested than the Chancellor is too late to the table when it comes to delivering for northern cities and are pushing him to make concrete commitments.
With next year’s General Election on the horizon, the Chancellor’s latest promises have been taken with a pinch of salt by some Labour MP’s.
Shadow Treasury Minister Shabana Mahmood said: “We welcome this report and the city regions of the North of England working together to strategically plan to deliver the growth and jobs we need.
“But only Labour will properly back our city and county regions with ambitious plans to devolve more funding and economic power to them.
“George Osborne will be judged on his actions, not his words. He is failing to back the Heseltine report or Labour’s plans to devolve billions of pounds of funding.
“Infrastructure output has fallen by over 12% since 2010. And the Chancellor has refused to back our proposal for an independent infrastructure commission to end the dither and delay on long-term decisions.”
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