George Osborne has signalled his support for investment worth billions of pounds in transport and communications systems for England’s northern cities in a bid to narrow the economic gap with London and the south-east.
The Chancellor said efforts to boost former industrial areas would provide the “centrepiece” of his Autumn Statement, raising expectations that measures including the so-called “Crossrail of the North” project could get the go-ahead later this year.
In growing signs of cross-party consensus on the need to rebalance the economy, Mr Osborne welcomed a £15bn plan drawn up by the five northern city regions and their Labour leaders calling for enhanced motorway, rail and digital networks.
He said the blueprint, created in response to his call for local authorities to work more closely together, was in keeping with his vision of a “northern powerhouse” economy. However, he fell short of backing any of the projects outright. These include a high-speed rail link which could see journey times across the Pennines cut by as much as 55 per cent.