Hammond must show ‘colour of his money’ to northern rail at Tory conference

Northern leaders have expressed disappointment at the lack of transport assurances given during the chancellor’s visit to the region yesterday, and called on him to capitalise on the upcoming Conservative Party conference in Manchester and the Autumn Budget to commit government money to key projects.

Chancellor Philip Hammond convened the government’s first ever meeting with all three northern mayors – Greater Manchester’s Andy Burnham, Tees Valley’s Ben Houchen and Liverpool City Region’s Steve Rotheram – to talk productivity.

The meeting came just a week after the northern leaders had met at a Leeds summit to call for better transport investment in the north.

As well as travelling to Leeds to see the progress being made at the Seacroft development, Hammond also visited the ongoing Ordsall Chord project in Manchester that is set to connect the city’s three main rail stations.

Ahead of his visit, the Treasury issued a statement confirming that Hammond “is clear the Northern Powerhouse will have a key role in the Industrial Strategy and efforts need to ensure Britain makes the most of the opportunities ahead as we leave the European Union”.

“Boosting productivity in the north is at the very heart of the government’s ambition to build an economy that works for everyone,” said the chancellor. “That’s why we are investing record amounts in infrastructure, and working with metro mayors to encourage growth and create opportunities throughout the north.”

The mayors themselves, however, told a different story: “In truth, we didn’t see the colour of his money today,” Burnham told the press.

Rotheram argued the meeting was positive but also emphasised the lack of clear investment: “I’m never happy when we have meetings where there’s no absolute commitment to fund things, but I think we had a fair hearing off him.

“It’s what comes next, as always. The chancellor has two fantastic opportunities: one in Manchester at the Tory Party conference [in October] and one in the Autumn Statement. Let’s see what comes out of those,” he told the Guardian.

Burnham revealed that the mayors tried convincing the chancellor of the importance of building ‘Crossrail for the North’ ahead of Crossrail 2, a move they explicitly consider to be a priority – especially given limited cash.

“It cannot be that London wins again at our expense and we are expected to wait even longer,” he said. “We have the cost of HS2, which is a big outlay; we have the cost of Brexit, the divorce bill as it’s called – that’s another big outlay. Are we really saying there’s two £30bn-plus cheques lying around for both Crossrail 2 and Crossrail for the North? Well, we have doubts about that.

“So we are saying, in that scenario, if he’s going to have to choose, he should choose the north of England and we think Parliament would back us up if it came to a choice.”

While the mayors did agree that Hammond’s visit in itself indicated he was listening to northern concerns, they criticised the lack of clarity over key rail projects – especially when it comes to electrification.

The GM mayor promised to “keep up the pressure” until firm promises were given on the TransPennine electrification, which was not explicitly thrown out the window but remains in doubt; the expansion of Manchester Piccadilly station with new platforms; and Northern Powerhouse Rail, a planned east-west high-speed link.

“That’s an obvious opportunity, isn’t it, for the chancellor to stand up in Manchester and really show that he’s committed to the Northern Powerhouse,” Burnham told the Manchester Evening News. “He has a bid in for new platforms at Piccadilly, he has the concern we’ve expressed about electrification, he has the aspiration for new high-speed lines across the north.

“We also raised housing, we also raised skills, and also the Northern Powerhouse more broadly. There’s plenty of ways in which now he could show the Northern Powerhouse is very much alive and kicking. We didn’t hear it today, but we hope to hear it in due course.”

During his visit, the chancellor repeated the transport secretary’s line that some of the TransPennine line may not need to be electrified after all, but insisted that the government’s policy on these upgrades had not changed – despite electrification being at the heart of the Conservative transport manifesto.

“So ‘which is it’ is my point to the chancellor,” added Burnham. “The government does need to clear this up, this uncertainty. He needs to provide clarity sooner or later with regard to transport investment in the north of England.

“The public here have waited long enough for improvement and it’s our job to speak for the people here and demand that investment and make sure we get what we were promised.”

To join the conversation about northern rail and find out more about the companies looking to invest in the region, make sure you book a ticket to sponsor or attend the upcoming TransCityRail North daytime conference and dinner.

(Top image c. Peter Byrne, PA Wire)


Sonnig Cutting   05/09/2017 at 13:56

As much as I sympathise with and indeed support the argument for much more transport investment across the country I won't be holding my breath! As the EU already know this present government is currently in full flow with ambiguities and obfuscation. Leopards don't often change their spots. What we really need is proper devolved regional government. Unfortunately too many vested interests manage to block these reforming ideas.

Lee   06/09/2017 at 07:51

The Northern Powerhouse was a vehicle intended purely to win Conservative votes in a Labour stong hold. Now the election is over it is not surprising things have cooled off. People keep trumpeting the nearly completed Ordsall Chord project as an example of a Northern Powerhouse project. In fact it is nothing more than a bridge over the River Irwell. Yes it does allow the three Manchester stations to be connected, but the capacity enhancements at Piccadilly station it was meant to bring wont fully materialise because the equally important but less well reported capacity improvement project between Manchester oxford Road and Manchester Piccadilly stations, including the construction of two new through platforms at Piccadilly to accommodate increased demand along the Castlefield corridor, which Ordsall Chord feeds into, wont happen for a long time, if at all. Instead, Airport trains from the North East will now call at Victoria, proceed on to the Ordsall Chord, then sit there waiting for a path through to Piccadilly, similarly, local services to Deansgate and Piccadilly will sit at Ordsall Lane junction, also waiting for a path. Forget about HS3/Crossrail2, concentrate on delivering the enhancements needed to make the stuff we have already got, work to meet demand, then think about new high speed lines, rather than adding to the list of half-completed masterplan schemes.

Lutz   06/09/2017 at 16:52

This is simply a case of pasturing by candidates for a future election to the leadership of the Labour Party; those concerned know very well that money can not be allocated until the plans have matured to the point where deliverables have been identified.

Stratfan   07/09/2017 at 07:56

Sadly northern MPs supported the white elephant,London centric hs2 which will cost a fortune and will not solve the north south divide as promised by Hammond and others. Time for them to force a rethink.

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