Mayors and council leaders in northern England have refused to give up on a new high speed east-west rail line, calling for talks with the government to discuss alternative funding models.
A meeting of politicians on the board of Transport for the North, the statutory body created to advise the government on the region’s transport needs, was held on Wednesday in Leeds. They discussed the announcement by the government of its new integrated rail plan, which has been condemned as a “betrayal” of the north.
One of the biggest omissions is a scaling back of the Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) project, including the axing of a new high speed line from Manchester to Leeds via Bradford.
Andy Burnham, the metro mayor of Greater Manchester, said to admit defeat would be “to fail generations to come”. He added: “We would be accepting a smaller economy in the north of England for the rest of our lives. This is not politics … this is about doing us doing what is right.”
He proposed a motion, agreed unanimously by Labour and Conservative members, to approach the government asking for a process of mediation. “I would be prepared to consider ways of unlocking local contribution to improve what is being proposed and get us towards the right solution,” he said.
“I didn’t hear any minister last week say anything other than cost was the reason why we could not have a new line via Bradford. If that is the case let us sit down with ministers and talk about how we bridge that gap.”
Burnham said the money could come from capturing the rise in land value that a new line would bring. Bradford is seen as one of the biggest losers from last week’s rail announcement. Burnham said people in the city were “getting pretty much nothing. Third class … forgotten.”
Labour mayors and council leaders took turns to express their anger at the government’s rail plan. Tracy Brabin, the mayor of West Yorkshire, called it a “betrayal of levelling up” that was not fair, transparent or clear.
In the north-east of England there has been huge disappointment that a £600m plan to reinstate the axed Leamside Line through County Durham, using existing infrastructure, is not in the plan.
Jamie Driscoll, the north of Tyne mayor, said the area was “getting nothing” from the government’s plan. “I’m getting so hacked off that I’m thinking the best thing we can do is get all of this money devolved to the north and let us decide how to spend it,” he said.
Daren Hale, the leader of Hull city council, said the plan was “almost a Beeching moment” that in effect removed Hull “from the rail map of the UK”.
A dissenter was the Conservative North Yorkshire councillor Don Mackenzie who said: “If I were a member of the government listening in to what is being said today, well-rehearsed political statements … I would want as little to do with this board as possible.”