Trains have got worse in decade since Northern Powerhouse promise, mayor says

Andy Burnham was speaking at the Transport for the North annual conference in Liverpool.

Eleanor Barlow
Monday 05 February 2024 16:28 GMT
Calls have been made for a different approach to transport (Danny Lawson/PA)
Calls have been made for a different approach to transport (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Archive)

Train services in the North have got poorer in the 10 years since the Northern Powerhouse was promised, Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said as he joined other leaders to call for a different approach to transport.

Speaking at the Transport for the North annual conference in Liverpool on Monday, Mr Burnham said to transform the rail network they needed to do “something different to what we did in the last decade”.

He said: “It’s 10 years this year since George Osborne came to Manchester and promised a Northern Powerhouse. That was going to mean HS2, HS3, as it was then called, now Northern Powerhouse Rail, better everyday services on the existing network.

“You name it, we were going to be promised all of this.

“Barely any of it has happened. In fact, new analysis that TfGM (Transport for Greater Manchester) has done says that rail services are poorer now than they were in 2016.”

Speaking to the media after his speech, Mr Burnham said: “This general election year, I think, lands at an uncomfortable moment for a Government that promised to level up because we have proof that railways have gone backwards in the decade since George Osborne made that speech.

“It’s almost unbelievable.”

During a question and answer session later in the day, rail minister Huw Merriman was asked whether services had gone backwards in the last 10 years.

He said: “One of the things I feel we’ve got to communicate more strongly is the investment that is going in right now.”

He said improvements were being done on the Transpennine route and they needed to “demonstrate the positives”.

Lord Patrick McLoughlin, former Conservative transport secretary and chairman of Transport for the North, said: “Has there been improvement? Yes. Has there been enough improvement? Well, that’s for others to decide, but it’s a continuous journey.”

In October last year, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak cancelled the plan to extend HS2 between the West Midlands and Manchester amid spiralling costs.

Mr Merriman said the decision was a “radical change” in the Government’s approach to transport.

He said: “It is important to me that every penny of HS2 savings from the North is spent well and makes a difference to transport in the North, benefiting more people in more places, more quickly than was ever conceivable under the HS2 projects.”

Last week, Mr Burnham and his West Midlands counterpart Andy Street met Transport Secretary Mark Harper to discuss privately funded alternatives to a scrapped section of HS2 between Birmingham and Manchester.

Mr Burnham said there would be a meeting of the private sector project group on Wednesday and there was “momentum” behind the plan.

We need to change how we plan for, develop, invest, and deliver transport infrastructure and services

Martin Tugwell, Transport for the North chief executive

He said: “Unless we improve Manchester to Birmingham productivity and capacity we’re going to have transport headaches for the rest of this century.”

Metro mayor of the Liverpool City Region Steve Rotheram told the conference he had written to the transport minister to seek a guarantee that any future northern rail network would deliver “the maximum possible benefits for the whole city region”.

He said he had called for assurances that plans for a new Liverpool to Manchester line would reduce disruption to Liverpool Lime Street station – as the conference heard one proposal would see the city’s main station disrupted for between one and three years.

Speaking about the decision to scrap the northern leg of HS2, Mr Rotheram said: “What message does that send about the North? That we are somehow worth less than people in the South? That the UK is not serious about being a place to invest or do business in or that the Government simply doesn’t care that Victorian infrastructure is holding back the North?”

He added: “Maybe the Prime Minister should travel across the North on the train.”

Martin Tugwell, Transport for the North chief executive, said: “There is a prize to transform the North up for grabs, but it requires both investment to create transformational change, and the devolution of powers to those closest to the people and places that will benefit to use them.

“We need to change how we plan for, develop, invest, and deliver transport infrastructure and services. Further devolution offers the opportunity to remove inertia, accelerate delivery and see the benefits of investment realised sooner.”

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